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University of Texas Bulletin 

No. 2326: July 8, 1923 


Translated by 

Adjunct Professor of Germanic Languages 



Publications of the University of Texas 

Publications Committee : 

Frederic Duncalf J. L. Henderson 
KiLLis Campbell E. J. Mathews 

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University of Texas Bulletin 

No. 2326: July 8, 1923 


Translated by 

Adjunct Professor of Germanic Languages 




The benefits of education and of 
useful knowledge, generally di£Fused 
through a community, are essential 
to the preservation of a free govern- 

Sam Houston 

Cultivated mind is the guardian 
genius of democracy. ... It is the 
only dictator that freemen acknowl- 
edge and the only security that free- 
men desire. 

Mirabeau B. Lamar 

To my Father-in-Law 

The Reverend George Fisher, 

A Christian 


Introduction 11 

1) Diapsalmata (from Either — Or, Part 1) 43 

2) The Banquet (from Stages on Life's Road, Part I) 46 

3) Fear and Trembling 119 

4) Preparation for a Christian Life 152 

5) The Present Moment 214 


Creditable as have been the contributions of Scandinavia 
to the cultural life of the race in well-nigh all fields of 
human endeavor, it has produced but one thinker of the 
first magnitude, the Dane, Soren A. Kierkegaard.^ The 
fact that he is virtually unknown to us is ascribable, on 
the one hand to the inaccessibility of his works, both as to 
language and form; on the other, to the regrettable in- 
sularity of English thought. 

It is the purpose of this book to remedy the defect in a 
measure, and by a selection from his most representative 
works to provide a stimulus for a more detailed study of his 
writings; for the present times, ruled by material consid- 
erations, wholly led by socializing, and misled by national, 
ideals are precisely the most opportune to introduce the 
bitter but wholesome antidote of individual responsibility, 
which is his message. In particular, students of Northern 
literature cannot afford to know no more than the name 
of one who exerted a potent and energizing influence on 
an important epoch of Scandinavian thought. To mention 
only one instance, the greatest ethical poem of our age, 
"Brand" — notwithstanding Ibsen's curt statement that he 
"had read little of Kierkegaard and understood less" — 
undeniably owes its fundamental thought to him, whether 
directly or indirectly. 

Of very few authors can it be said with the same literal- 
ness as, of Kierkegaard that their life is their works : as if 
to furnish living proof of his untiring insistance on inward- 
ness, his life, like that of so many other spiritual educators 
of the race, is notably poor in incidents ; but his life of in- 
ward experiences is all the richer — witness the "literature 
within a literature" that came to be within a few years 
and that gave to Danish letters a score of immortal works. 

^Pronounced Kerkegor. 

12 University of Texas Bulletin 

Kierkegaard's physical heredity must be pronounced un- 
fortunate. Being the child of old parents — ^his father was 
fifty-seven, his mother forty-five years at his birth (May 5, 
1813), he had a weak physique and a feeble constitution. 
Still worse, he inherited from his father a burden of mel- 
ancholy which he took a sad pride in masking under a show 
of sprightliness. His father, Michael Pedersen Kierke- 
gaard, had begun life as a poor cotter's boy in West Jut- 
land, where he was set to tend the- sheep on the wild moor- 
lands. One day, we are told, oppressed by loneliness and 
cold, he ascended a hill and in a passionate rage cursed God 
who had given him this miserable existence — the memory 
of which "sin against the Holy Ghost" he was not able to 
shake off to the end of his long life.- When seventeen years 
old, the gifted lad was sent to his uncle in Copenhagen, who 
was a well-to-do dealer in woolens and groceries. Kierke- 
gaard quickly established himself in the trade and amassed 
a considerable fortune. This enabled him to withdraw 
from active life when only forty, and to devote himself to 
philosophic studies, the leisure for which life had till then 
denied him. More especially he seems to have studied the 
works of the rationalistic philosopher Wolff. After the 
early death of his first wife who left him no issue, he mar- 
ried a former servant in his household, also of Jutish stock, 
who bore him seven children. Of these only two survived 
him, the oldest son — later bishop — Peder Christian, and 
the youngest son, Soren Abye. 

Nowhere does Kierkegaard speak of his mother, a woman 
of simple mind and cheerful disposition ; but he speaks all 
the more often of his father, for whom he ever expressed 
the greatest love and admiration and who, no doubt, de- 
voted himself largely to the education of his sons, particu- 
larly to that of his latest born. Him he was to mould in 
his own image. A pietistic, gloomy spirit of religiosity 
pervaded the household in which the severe father was un- 
disputed master, and absolute obedience the watchword. 

-An interesting parallel is the story of Peter Williams, as told 
by George Borrow, Lavengro, chap. 75 ft. 

Selections from the Writings of Kierkegaard 13 

Little Soren, as he himself tells us, heard more of the 
Crucified and the martyrs than of the Christ-child and good 
angels. Like John Stuart Mill, whose early education bears 
a remarkable resemblance to his, he "never had the joy to 
be a child." Although less systematically held down to 
his studies, in which religion was the be-all and end-all 
(instead of being banished, as was the case with Mill), he 
was granted but a minimum of out-door play and exercise. 
And, instead of strengthening the feeble body, his father 
threw the whole weight of his melancholy on the boy. 

Nor was his home training, formidably abstract, counter- 
balanced by a normal, healthy school-life. Naturally intro- 
spective and shy, both on account of a slight deformity of 
his body and on account of the old-fashioned clothes his 
father made him wear, he had no boy friends; and when 
cuffed by his more robust contemporaries, he could defend 
himself only with his biting sarcasm. Notwithstanding 
his early maturity he does not seem to have impressed 
either his schoolmates or his teachers by any gifts much 
above the ordinary. The school he attended was one of 
those semi-public schools which by strict discipline and 
consistent methods laid a solid foundation of humanities 
and mathematics for those who were to enter upon a pro- 
fessional career. The natural sciences played nojfole what- 

Obedient to the wishes of his father, Soren chose the 
study of theology, as had his eldest brother; but, once re- 
lieved from the grind of school at the age of seventeen, he 
rejoiced in the full liberty of university^ life, indulging him- 
self to his heart's content in all the refined intellectual and 
aesthetic enjoyments the gay capital of Copenhagen offered. 
He declares himself in later years to be "one who is peni- 
tent" for having in his youth plunged into all kinds of ex- 
cesses; but we feel reasonably sure that he committed no 
excesses worse than "high living." He was frequently seen 
at the opera and the theatre, spent money freely in restau- 
rants and confectionary shops, bought many and expensive 
books, dressed well, and indulged in such extravagances as 
driving in a carriage and pair, alone, for days through the 

14 University of Texas Bulletin 

fields and forests of the lovely island of Zealand. In fact, 
he contracted considerable debts, so that his disappointed 
father decided to put him on an allowance of 500 rixdollars 
yearly — rather a handsome sum, a hundred years ago. 

Naturally, little direct progress was made in his studies. 
But while to all appearances aimlessly dissipating his en- 
ergies, he showed a pronounced love for philosophy and 
kindred disciplines. He lost no opportunity then offered 
at the University of Copenhagen to train his mind along 
these lines. He heard the sturdily independent Sibbern's 
lectures on aesthetics and enjoyed a "privatissimum" on the 
main issues of Schleiermacher's Dogmatics with his later 
enemy, the theologian Martensen, author of the celebrated 
"Christian Dogmatics." 

But there was no steadiness in him. Periods of indiffer- 
ence to these studies alternated with feverish activity, and 
doubts of the truth of Christianity, with bursts of devotion. 
However, the Hebraically stern cast of mind of the ex- 
terrially gay student soon wearied of this rudderless exist- 
enceence. He sighs for an "Archimedean" point of sup- 
port for his conduct of life. We find the following entry 
in his diary, which prophetically foreshadows some of the 
fundamental ideas of his later career: "... what I really 
need is to arrive at a clear comprehension of w h a t I am 
t o d o, not of what I am to grasp with my understanding, 
except insofar as this understanding is necessary for every 
action. The point is, to comprehend what I am called to 
do, to see what the Godhead really means that I shall do, 
to find a truth which is truth for me, to find the idea 
for which I am willing to live and to 

This Archimedean point was soon to be furnished him. 
There came a succession of blows, culminating in the' death 
of his father, whose silent disapprobation had long been 
weighing heavily on the conscience of the wayward son. 
Even more awful, perhaps, was a revelation made by the 
dying father to his sons, very likely touching that very 
"sin against the Holy Ghost" which he had committed in 
his boyhood and the consequence of which he now was to 

Selections frmn the Writings of Kierkegaard 15 

lay on them as a curse, instead of his blessing. Kierke- 
gaard calls it "the great earthquake, the terrible upheaval, 
which suddenly forced on me a new and infallible interpre- 
tation of all phenomena." He began to suspect that he had 
been chosen by Providence for an extraordinary' purpose; 
and with his abiding filial piety he interprets his father's 
death as the last of many sacrifices he made for him ; "for 
he died, not away from me, but for me, so that there 
might yet, perchance, become something of me." Crushed 
by this thought, and through the "new interpretation" de- 
spairing of happiness in this life, he clings to the thought 
of his unusual intellectual powers as his only consolation 
and a means by which his salvation might be accomplished. 
He quickly absolved his examination for ordination (ten 
years after matriculation) and determined on his magis- 
terial dissertation. ■ 

Already some years before he had made a not very suc- 
cessful debut in the world of letters with a pamphlet whose 
queer title "From the MSS, of One Still Li\ang" reveals 
Kierkegaard's inborn love of mystification and innuendo. 
Like a Puck of philosophy, with somewhat awkward bounds 
and a callow manner, he had there teased the worthies of 
his times ; and, in particular, taken a good fall out of Hans 
Christian Andersen, the poet of the Fairj* Tales, who had 
aroused his indignation by describing in somewhat lach- 
rymose fashion the struggles of genius to come into its 
own. Kierkegaard himself was soon to show the truth of 
his own dictum that "genius does not whine but like a 
thunderstorm goes straight counter to the wind." 

While casting about for a subject worthy of a more sus- 
tained effort — he marks out for study the legends of Faust, 
of the Wandering Jew, of Don Juan, as representatives of 
certain basic views of life ; the Conception of Satire among 
the Ancients, etc., etc., — he at last becomes aware of his 
affinity with Socrates, in whom he found that rare harmony 
between theory and the conduct of life which he hoped to 
attain himself. 

■^Corresponding, approximately, to our doctoral thesis. 

16 University of Texas Bulletin 

Though not by Kierkegaard himself counted among the 
works bearing on the "Indirect Communication" — presently 
to be explained — his magisterial dissertation, entitled "The 
Conception of Irony, with Constant Reference to Socrates," 
a book of 300 pages, is of crucial importance. It shows 
that, helped by the sage who would not directly help 
any one, he had found the master key : his own interpreta- 
tion of life. Indeed, all the following literary output may 
be regarded as the consistent development of the simple 
directing thoughts of his firstling work. And we must de- 
vote what may seem a disproportionate amount of space 
to the explanation of these thoughts if we would enter into 
the world of his mind. 

Not only did Kierkegaard feel kinship with Socrates. It 
did not escape him that there was an ominous similarity 
between Socrates' times and his own — between the period 
of flourishing Attica, eminent in the arts and in philosophy, 
when a little familiarity with the shallow phrases of the 
Sophists enabled one to have an opinion about everything 
on earth and in heaven, and his own Copenhagen in the 
thirties of the last century, when Johan Ludvig Heiberg 
had popularized Hegelian philosophy with such astonishing 
success that the very cobblers were using the Hegelian ter- 
minology, with "Thesis, Antithesis, and Synthesis," and 
one could get instructions from one's barber, while being 
shaved, how to "harmonize the ideal with reality, and our 
wishes with what we have attained." Every difficulty could 
be "mediated," according to this recipe. And just as the 
great questioner of Athens gave pause to his more naive 
contemporaries by his "know thyself," so Kierkegaard in- 
sisted that he must rouse his contemporaries from their 
philosophic complacency and unwarranted optimism, and 
move them to realize that the spiritual life has both moun- 
tain and valley, that it is no flat plain easy to travel. He 
intended to show difficulties where the road had been sup- 
posedly smoothed for them. 

Central, both in the theory and in the practice of Socrates 
(according to Kierkegaard), is his irony. The ancient 
sage would stop old and young and quizz them skilfully on 

Selections from the Writings of Kierkegaard 17 

what they regarded as common and universally established 
propositions, until his interlocutor became confused by some 
consequence or contradiction arising unexpectedly, and 
until he who had been sure of his knowledge was made to 
confess his ignorance, or even to become distrustful of the 
possibility of knowledge. Destroying supposedly positive 
values, this method would seem to lead to a negative re- 
sult only. 

Kierkegaard makes less (and rather too little) of the 
positive side of Socrates' method, his maieutic, or mid- 
wifery, by which we are led inductively from trivial in- 
stances to a new definition of a conception, a method 
which will fit all cases. Guided by a lofty personality, this 
Socratic irony becomes, in Kierkegaard's definition, merely 
"the negative liberation of subjectivity" ; that is, not the 
family, nor society, nor the state, nor any rules superim- 
posed from outside, but one's innermost self (or subjectiv- 
ity) is to be the determining factor in one's life. And un- 
derstood thus, irony as a negative element borders on the 
ethical conception of life. 

Romantic irony, on the other hand, laying main stress 
on subjective liberty, represents the aesthetic conduct of 
life. It was, we remember, the great demand of the Ro- 
mantic period that one live poetically. That is, after hav- 
ing reduced all reality to possibilities, all existence to frag- 
ments, we are to choose ad libitum one such possible ex- 
istence, to consider that one's proper sphere, and for the 
rest to look ironically on all other reality as philistine. 
Undeniably, this license, through the infinitude of possibil- 
ities open to him, gives the ironist an enthusiastic sense of 
irresponsible freedom in which he "disports himself as does 
Leviathan in the deep." Again, the "ajsthetical individual" 
is ill at ease in the world into which he is born. His typical 
ailment is a Byronesque Weltschmerz. He would fain 
mould the elements of existence to suit himself; that, is, 
"compose" not only himself but also his surroundings. But 
without fixed task and purpose, life will soon lose all con- 
tinuity ("except that of boredom") and fall apart into dis- 
connected moods and impulses. Hence, while supposing 

18 University of Texas Bulletin 

himself a superman, free, and his own master, the aesthetic 
individual is, in reality, a slave to the merest accidents. 
He is not self -directed, self-propelled; but — drifts. 

Over against this attitude Kierkegaard now sets the 
ethical. Christian life, one with a definite purpose and goal 
beyond itself. "It is one thing to compose one's own life, 
another, to let one's life be composed. The Christian lets 
his life b e composed ; and insofar a simple Christian lives 
far more poetically than many a genius." It would hardly 
be possible to characterize the contents of Kierkegaard's 
first great book, Enten — Eller "Either — Or," more inclu- 
sively and tersely. 

Very well, then, the Christian life, with its clear direc- 
tive, is superior to the aesthetic existence. But how is this : 
are we not all Christians in Christendom, children of Chris- 
tians, baptized and confirmed according to the regulations 
of the Church? And are we not all to be saved according 
to the promise of Our Lord who died for us? At a very 
early time Kierkegaard, himself desperately struggling to 
maintain his Christian faith against doubts, had his eyes 
opened to this enormous delusion of modern times and was 
preparing to battle against it. The great idea and task 
for which he was to live and to die — here it was : humanity 
is in apparent possession of the divine truth, but utterly 
perverts it and, to cap injury with insult, protects and in- 
trenches the deception behind state sanction and institu- 
tions. More appalling evil confronted not even the early 
protagonists of Christianity against heathendom. How 
w&s he, single-handed, magnificently gifted though he was, 
to cleanse the temple and restore its pristine simplicity? 

Clearly, the old mistake must not be repeated, to try to 
influence and reform the masses by a vulgar and futile 
"revival," preaching to them directly and gaining disciples 
innumerable. It would only lead agaiA to the abomination 
of a lip service. But a ferment must be introduced which 
— he hoped — would gradually restore Christianity to its 
former vigor; at least in individuals. So far as the form 
of his own works is concerned he was thus bound to use 
the "indirect method" of Socrates whom he regards as his 

Selections from the Writings of Kierkegaard 19 

teacher. In conscious opposition to the Sophists who sold 
their boasted wisdom for money, Socrates not only made no 
charges for his instruction but even warned people of his 
ignorance, insisting that, like a midwife, he only helped 
people to give birth to their own thoughts. And owing to 
his irony Socrates' relation to his disciples was not in any 
positive sense a personal one. Least of all did he wish to 
found a new "school" or erect a philosophic "system." 

Kierkegaard, with Christianity as his goal, adopted thb 
same tactics. By an attractive aesthetic beginning people 
were to be "lured" into envisaging the difficulties to be un- 
folded presently, to think for themselves, to form their own 
conclusions, whether for or against. The individual was 
to be appealed to, first and last — the individual, no matter 
how humble, who would take the trouble to follow him and 
be his reader, "my only reader, the single individual." 
"So the religious author must make it his first business to 
put himself in touch with men. That is to say, he must 
begin aesthetically. The more brilliant his performance, 
the better." And then, when he has got them to follow 
him "he must produce the religious categories so that these 
same men with all the impetus of their devotion to aesthetic 
things are suddenly broughiE up sharp against the religious 
aspect." The writer's own personality was to be entirely 
eliminated by a system of pseudonyms; for the effect of 
his teaching was not to be jeopardized by a distracting 
knowledge of his personality. Accordingly, in conscious 
imitation of Socrates, Kierkegaard at first kept up a sem- 
blance of his previous student life, posing as a frivolous 
idler on the streets of Copenhagen, a witty dog incapable 
of prolonged serious activity; thus anxiously guarding the 
secret of his feverish activity during the lonely hours of 
the night. 

His campaign of the "indirect communication" was thus 
fully determined upon; but there was still lacking the im- 
petus of an elemental passion to start it and give it driving 

20 University of Texas Bulletin 

force and conquering persistence. This also was to be 
furnished him. 

Shortly before his father's death he had made the ac- 
quaintance of Regine Olson, a beautiful young girl of good 
family. There followed one of the saddest imaginable en- 
gagements. The melancholy, and essentially lonely, thinker 
may not at first have entertained the thought of a lasting 
attachment; for had he not, on the one hand, given up all 
hope of worldly happiness, and on the other, begun to think 
of himself as a chosen tool of heaven not to be bound by 
the ordinary ties of human affection? But the natural de- 
sire to be as happy as others and to live man's common lot, 
for a moment hushed all anxious scruples. And the love 
of the brilliant and promising young man with the deep, 
sad eyes and the flashing wit was ardently returned by her. 

Difficulties arose very soon. It was not so much the ex- 
treme youth and immaturity of the girl — she was barely 
sixteen — as against his tremendous mental development, 
or even her "total lack of religious pre-suppositions" ; for 
that might not itself have precluded a happy union. Vastly 
more ominous was his own unconquerable and overwhelm- 
ing melancholy. She could not break it. And struggle as 
he might, he could not banish it. And, he reasoned, even 
if he were successful in concealing it from her, the very 
concealment were a deceit. Neither would he burden her 
with his melancholy by revealing it to her. Besides, some 
mysterious ailment which, with Paul, he terms the "thorn 
in his flesh," tormented him. The fact that he consulted 
a physician makes it likely that it was bodily, and perhaps 
sexual. On the other hand, the manner of Kierkegaard*s 
multitudinous references to woman removes the suspicion 
of any abnormality. The impression remains that at the 
bottom of his trouble there lay his melancholy, aggravated 
admittedly by an "insane education," and coupled with an 
exaggerated sense of a misspent youth. That nothing else 
prevented the union is clear from his own repeated later 
remarks that, with more faith, he would have married her. 

Though to the end of his life he never ceased to love 
her, he feels that they must part. But she clings to him 

Selections from the Writings of Kierkegaard 21 

with a rather maudlin devotion, which, to be sure, only in- 
creased his determination. He finally hit on the desperate 
device of pretending frivolous indifference to her affections, 
and acted this sad comedy with all the dialectic subtleness 
of his genius, until she eventually released him. Then, after 
braving for a while the philistine indignation of public 
opinion and the disapproval of his friends, in order to con- 
firm her in her bad opinion of him, he fled to Berlin with 
shattered nerves and a bleeding heart. 

He had deprived himself of what was dearest to him in 
life. For all that, he knew that the foundations of his 
character remained unshaken. The voluntary renuncia- 
tion of a worldly happiness which was his for the taking 
intensifies his idea of being one of the "few in each genera- 
tion selected to be a sacrifice." Thereafter, "his thought 
is all to him," and all his gifts are devoted to the service 
of God. 

During the first half of the nineteenth century, more than 
at any other time, Denmark was an intellectual dependency 
of Germany. It was but natural that Kierkegaard, in 
search for the ultimate verities, should resort to Berlin 
where Schelling was just then beginning his famous course 
of lectures. In many respects it may be held deplorable 
that, at a still formative stage, Kierkegaard should have 
remained in the prosaic capital of Prussia and have been 
influenced by bloodless abstractions; instead of journeying 
to France, or still better, to England whose empiricism 
would, no doubt, have been an excellent corrective of his 
excessive tendency to speculation. In fact he was quickly 
disappointed with Schelling and after four months returned 
to his beloved Copenhagen (which he was not to leave 
thereafter except for short periods), with his mind still 
busy on the problems which were peculiarly his own. The 
tremendous impulse given by his unfortunate engagement 
was sufficient to stimulate his sensitive mind to a produc- 
tivity without equal in Danish literature, to create a "lit- 
erature within a literature." The fearful inner collision 

22 University of Texas Bulletin 

of motives had lit an inner conflagration which did not 
die down for years. "My becoming an author is due chiefly 
to her, my melancholy, and my money." 

About a year afterwards (1843) there appeared his first 
great work, "Either — Or," which at once established his 
fame. As in the case of most of his works it will be im- 
possible to give here more than the barest outline of its 
plan and contents. In substance, it is a grand debate be- 
tween the aesthetic and the ethic views of life. In his dis- 
sertation Kierkegaard had already characterized the aes- 
thetic point of view. Now, in a brilliant series of articles, 
he proceeds' to exemplify it with exuberant detail. 

The fundamental chord of the first part is struck in the 
Diapsalmata — aphorisms which, like so many flashes of a 
lantern, illuminate the aesthetic life, its pleasures and its 
despair. The aesthetic individual — this is brought out in 
the article entitled "The Art of Rotation" — wishes to be 
the exception in human society, shirking its common, hum- 
ble duties and claiming special privileges. He has no fixed 
principle except that he means not to' be bound to anything 
or anybody. He has but one desire which is, to enjoy the 
sweets of life — whether its purely sensual pleasures or the 
more refined Epicureanism of the finer things in life and 
art, and the ironic enjoyment of one's own superiority over 
the rest of humanity; and he has no fear except that he 
may succumb to boredom. 

As a comment on this text there follow a number of 
essays in "experimental psychology," supposed to be the 
fruit of the aesthete's (A's) leisure. In them the aesthetic 
life is exhibited in its various manifestations, in "terms of 
existence," especially as to its "erotic stages," from the 
indefinite longings of the Page to the fully conscious "sen- 
sual genius" of Don Juan — the examples are taken from 
Mozart's opera of this name, which was Kierkegaard's 
favorite — until the whole culminates in the famous "Diary 
of the Seducer," containing elements of the author's own 
engagement, poetically disguised — a seducer, by the way, 
of an infinitely reflective kind. 

Following this climax of unrestrained aestheticism we 

Selections from the WHtings of Kierkegaard 23 

hear in the second part the stern demands of the ethical 
life. Its spokesman, Judge William, rises in defense of 
the social institutes, and of marriage in particular, against 
the slurs cast on them by his young friend A. He makes 
it clear that the only possible outcome of the aesthetic life, 
with its aimlessness, its superciliousness, its vague possi- 
bilities, is a feeling of vanity and vexation of spirit, and a 
hatred of life itself: despair. One floundering in this in- 
evitable slough of despond, who earnestly wishes to escape 
from it and to save himself from the ultimate destruction 
of his personality, must choose and determine to rise into 
the ethical sphere. That is, he must elect a definite calling, 
no matter how humdrum, marry, if possible, and thus sub- 
ject himself to the "general law." In a word, instead of a 
world of vague possibilities, however attractive, he must 
choose the definite circumscription of the individual who 
is a member of society. Only thus will he obtain a balance 
in his life between the demands of his personality on the 
one hand, and of the demands of society on him. When 
thus reconciled to his environment — his "lot"-;— all the 
pleasures of the aesthetic sphere which he resigned will be 
his again in rich measure, but in a transfigured sense. 

Though nobly eloquent in places, and instinct with warm 
feeling, this panegyric on marriage and the fixed duties of 
life is somewhat unconvincing, and its style undeniably tame 
and unctious — at least when contrasted with the Satanic 
verve of most of A's papers. The fact is that Kierkegaard, 
when considering the ethical sphere, in order to carry out 
his plan of contrasting it with the aesthetic sphere, was al- 
ready envisaging the higher sphere of religion, to which 
the ethical sphere is but a transition, and which is the only 
true alternative to the aesthetic life. At the very end of 
the book Kierkegaard, flying his true colors, places a ser- 
mon as an "ultimatum," purporting to have been written 
by a pastor on the Jutish Heath. Its text is that "as against 
God we are always in the wrong," and the tenor of it, "only 
that truth which edifies is truth for you." It is not that 
you must choose either the aesthetic o r the ethical view 
of life; but that neither the one nor the other is the full 

24 University of Texas Bulletin 

truth — God alone is the truth which must be grasped with 
all inwardness. But since we recognize our imperfections, 
or sins, the more keenly, as we are developed more highly, 
our typical relation to God must be that of repentance; 
and by repentance as by a step we may rise into the higher 
sphere of religion — as will -be seen, a purely Christian 

A work of such powerful originality, imposing by its 
very size, and published at the anonymous author's own ex- 
pense, could not but create a stir among the small Danish 
reading public. And notwithstanding Kierkegaard's con- 
sistent efforts to conceal his authorship in the interest of 
his "indirect communication," it could not long remain a 
secret. The book was much, and perplexedly, discussed, 
though no one was able to fathom the author's real aim, 
most readers being attracted by piquant subjects such as 
the "Diary of the Seducer," and regarding the latter half 
as a feeble afterthought. As he said himself: "With my 
left hand I held out to the world 'Either — Or,' with my 
right, Two Edifying Discourses'; but they all — or prac- 
tically all — seized with their right hands what I held in my 

These "Two Edifying Discourses,"* — for thus he pre- 
ferred to call them, rather than sermons, because he claimed 
no authority to preach — as well as all the many later ones, 
were published over his own name, addressed to Den 
Enkelte "The Single Individual" "whom with joy and grati- 
tude he calls his reader," and were dedicated to the memory 
of his father. They belong among the noblest books of 
edification, of which the North has not a few. 

During the following three years (1843-5) Kierkegaard, 
once roused to productivity, though undoubtedly kept at 
his task by the exertion of marvellous will-power, wrote in 
quick succession some of his most notable works — so orig- 
inal in form, in thought, in content that it is a well-nigh 
hopeless task to analyze them to any satisfaction. All we 

iNot "Discourses for Edification," cf. the Foreword to Atten 
Opbyggelige Taler, S. V. vol. iv. 

Selections from the Writings of Kierkegaard 25 

can do here is to note the development in them of the one 
grand theme which is fundamental to all his literary ac- 
tivity: how to become a Christian. 

If the second part of "Either — Or" was devoted to an 
explanation of the nature of the ethical, as against the 
aesthetic, conduct of life, inevitably the next task was, first, 
to define the nature of the religious life, as against the 
merely ethical life; then, to show how the religious sphere 
may be attained. This is done in the brilliant twin books 
Frijgt og Baeven "Fear and Trembling" and Gjentagelsen 
"Repetition." Both were published over pseudonyms. 

"Fear and Trembling" bears as its subtitle "Dialectic 
Lyrics." Indeed, nowhere perhaps is Kierkegaard's strange 
union of dialectic subtlety and intense lyrical power and 
passion so strikingly in evidence as in this panegyric on 
Abraham, the father of faith. To Kierkegaard he is the 
shining exemplar of the religious life ; and his greatest act 
of faith, his obedience to God's command to slay Isaac. 
Nothing can surpass the eloquence with which he depicts 
the agony of the father, his struggle betw^een the ethical, 
or general, law which saith "thou shalt no kill" ! and God's 
specific command. In the end, Abraham by a grand re- 
solve transgresses the law; and lo! because he has faith, 
against certainty, that he will keep Isaac, and does not 
merely resign him, as many a tragic hero would have done, 
he receives all again, in a new and higher sphere. In other 
words, Abraham chooses to be "the exception" and set 
aside the general law, as well as does the aesthetic individ- 
ual; but, note well: "in fear and trembling," and at the 
express command of God! He is a "knight of faith." But 
because this direct relation to the divinity necessarily can 
be certain only to Abraham's self, his action is altogether 
incomprehensible to others. Reason recoils before the ab- 
solute paradox of the individual who chooses to rise superior 
to the general law. 

The rise into the religious sphere is always likely to be 
the outcome of some severe inner conflict engendering in- 
finite passion. In the splendidly written Gjentagelse 

26 University of Texas Bulletin 

"Repetition" we are shown ad oculos an abortive transition 
into the religious sphere, with a corresponding relapse into 
the aesthetic sphere. Kierkegaard's own love-story is again 
drawn upon : the "Young Person" ardently loves the woman ; 
but discovers to his consternation that she is in reality but 
a burden to him since, instead of having an actual, living 
relation to her, he merely "remembers" her when she is 
present. In the ensuing collision of motives his aesthetically 
cool friend Constantin Constantius advises him to act as 
one unworthy of her — as did Kierkegaard — and to forget 
her. But instead of following this advice, and lacking a 
deeper religious background, he flees the town and subse- 
quently transmutes his trials into poetry — ^that is, relapses 
into the aesthetic sphere: rather than, like Job, whom he 
apostrophises passionately, "receiving all again" (having 
all "repeated") in a higher sphere. This idea of the re- 
sumption of a lower stage into a higher one is one of Kierk- 
egaard's most original and fertile thoughts. It is illustrated 
here with an amazing wealth of instances. 

So far, it had been a question of religious feeling in gen- 
eral — how it may arise, and what its nature is. In the 
pivotal work Philosophiske Smuler "Philosophic Trifles" — 
note the irony — Kierkegaard throws the searching rays of 
his penetrating intellect on the grand problem of revealed 
religion: can one's eternal salvation be based on an his- 
torical event? This is the great stumbling block to the 

Hegel's philosophic optimism maintained that the diffi- 
culties of Christianity had been completely "reconciled" or 
"mediated" in the supposedly higher synthesis of philos- 
ophy, by which process religion had been reduced to terms 
which might be grasped by the intellect. Kierkegaard, 
fully, voicing the claim both of the intellect and of religion, 
erects the barrier of the paradox, impassable except by 
the act of faith. As will be seen, this is Tertullian's Credo 
quia ahsurdum.^ 

■>De Cat-ne Christi, chap. V, as my friend, Professor A. E, Haydon, 
kindly points out. 

Selections from the Writings of Kierkegaard 27 

In the briefest possible outline his argument is as fol- 
lows : Socrates had taught that in reality every one had the 
truth in him and needed but to be r e m i n d e d of it by 
the teacher who thus is necessary' only in helping the dis- 
ciple to discover it himself. That is the indirect commu- 
nication of the truth. But now suppose that the truth is 
not innate in man, suppose he has merely the ability to 
grasp it when presented to him. And suppose the teacher 
to be of absolute, infinite importance — ^the Godhead him- 
self, directly communicating with man, revealing the truth 
in the shape of man; in fact, as the lowliest of men, yet 
insisting on implicit belief in Him! This, according to 
Kierkegaard, constitutes the paradox of faith par excellence. 
But this paradox, he shows, existed for the generation 
contemporaneous with Christ in the same manner as it does 
for those living now. To think that faith was an easier 
matter for those who saw the Lord and walked in His 
blessed company is but a sentimental, and fatal, delusion. 
On the other hand, to found one's faith on the glorious re- 
sults, now evident, of Christ's appearance in the world is 
sheer thoughtlessness and blasphemy. With ineluctable 
cogency it follows that "there can be no disciple at second 
hand." Now, as well as "1800 years ago," whether in 
Heathendom or in Christendom, faith is born of the same 
conditions : the resolute acceptance by the individual of the 
absolute paradox. 

In previous works Kierkegaard had already intimated 
that what furnished man the impetus to rise into the high- 
est sphere and to assail passionately and incessantly the 
barrier of the paradox, or else caused him to lapse into 
"demonic despair," was the consciousness of sin. In the 
book Begrebet Angest "The Concept of Sin," he now at- 
tempts with an infinite and laborious subtlety to explain 
the nature of sin. Its origin is found in the "sympathetic 
antipathy" of Dread — ^that force which at one and the same 
time attracts and repels from the suspected danger of a 
fall and is present even in the state of innocence, in chil- 
dren. It finally results in a kind of "dizziness" which is 
fatal. Yet, so Kierkegaard contends, the "fall" of man is, 

28 University of Texas Bulletin 

in every single instance, due to a definite act of the will, 
a "leap" — which seems a patent contradiction. 

To the modern reader, this is the least palatable of Kierke- 
gaard's works, conceived as it is with a sovereign and al- 
most medieval disregard of the predisposing undeniable 
factors of environment and heredity (which, to be sure, 
poorly fit his notion of the absolute responsibility of the 
individual). Its sombreness is redeemed, to a certain de- 
gree, by a series of marvellous observations, drawn from 
history and literature, on the various phases and manifes- 
tations of Dread in human life. 

On the same day as the book just discussed there ap- 
peared, as a "counter-irritant," the hilariously exuberant 
Forord "Forewords," a collection of some eight playful but 
vicious attacks, in the form of prefaces, on various foolish 
manifestations of Hegelianism in Denmark. They are 
aimed chiefly at the high-priest of the "system," the poet 
Johan Ludvig Heiberg who, as the arbiter elegantiarum 
of the times had presumed to review, with a plentiful lack 
of insight, Kierkegaard's activity. But some of the 
most telling shots are fired at a number of the individualist 
Kierkegaard's pet aversions. 

His next great work, Stadier paa Livets Vei "Stages on 
Life's Road," forms a sort of resume of the results so far 
gained. The three "spheres" are more clearly elaborated. 

The aesthetic sphere is represented existentially by the in- 
comparable In Vino Veritas, generally called "The Ban- 
quet," from a purely literary point of view the most per- 
fect of Kierkegaard's works, which, if written in one of the 
great languages of Europe, would have procured him world 
fame. Composed in direct emulation of Plato's immortal 
Symposion, it bears comparison with it as well as any mod- 
ern composition can.° Indeed, it excels Plato's work in 
subtlety, richness, and refined humor. To be sure, Kierke- 
gaard has charged his creation with such romantic super- 
abundance of delicate observations and rococo ornament 
that the whole comes dangerously near being improbable; 

"Cf. Brandes, S. K. p. 157. 

Selections from the Writings of Kierkegaard 29 

whereas the older work stands solidly in reality. 

It is with definite purpose that the theme of the speeches 
of the five participants in the banquet is love, i.e., the 
relation of the two sexes in love; for it is there the main 
battle between the aesthetic and the ethical view of life 
must be fought out. Accordingly, Judge William, to whom 
the last idyllic pages of "The Banquet" again introduce 
us, in the second part breaks another shaft in defense of 
marriage, which in the ethical view of life is the typical 
realization of the "general law." Love exists also for the 
ethical individual. In fact, love and no other consideration 
whatsoever can justify marriage. But whereas to the 
aesthetic individual love is merely eroticism, viz., a passing 
self-indulgence without any obligation, the ethical individ- 
ual attaches to himself the woman of his choice by an act 
of volition, for better or for worse, and by his marriage 
vow incurs an obligation to society. Marriage is thus a 
synthesis of love and duty. A pity only that Kierkegaard's 
astonishingly low evaluation of woman utterly mars what 
would otherwise be a classic defence of marriage. 

The religious sphere is shown forth in the third part, 
Skijldig—Ikke-Skyldig "Guilty— Not-Guilty," with the apt 
subtitle "A History of Woe." Working over, for the third 
time, and in the most intense fashion, his own unsuccessful 
attempt to "realize the general law," i.e., by marrying, 
he here presents in the form of a diary the essential facts 
of his own engagement, but in darker colors than in "Repe- 
tition." It is broken because of religious incompatibility 
and the lover's unconquerable melancholy; and by his vol- 
untary renunciation, coupled with acute suffering through 
his sense of guilt for his act, he is driven up to an approx- 
imation of the religious sphere. Not unjustly, Kierkegaard 
himself regarded this as the richest of his works. 

One may say that "Guilty— Not-Guilty" corresponds to 
Kierkegaard's own development at this stage. Christianity 
is still above him. How may it be attained? This is the 
grand theme of the huge book whimsically named "Final 
Unscientific Postscript to the Philosophical Trifles," 
Afsluttende Uvidenskabelig EfterskHft (1846) : "How 

30 University of Texas Bulletin 

shall I become a Christian, I, Johannes Climacus, born in 
this city, thirty years of age, and not in any way different 
from the ordinary run of men"? 

Following up the results gained in the "Trifles," the sub- 
jectivity of faith is established once for all: it is not to be 
attained by swearing to any set of dogmas, not even Scrip- 
ture ; for who will vouch for its being an absolutely reliable 
and inspired account of Christ? Besides, as Lessing had 
demonstrated conclusively: historic facts never can become 
the proof of eternal verities. Nor can the existence of the 
Church through the ages furnish any guarantee for faith — 
straight counter to the opinion held by Kierkegaard's fa- 
mous contemporary Grundtvig — any more than can mere 
contemporaneousness establish a guarantee for those living 
at the beginning. To sum up: "One who has an objective 
Christianity and nothing else, he is eo ipso a heathen." For 
the same reason, "philosophic speculation" is not the proper 
approach, since it seeks to understand Christianity objec- 
tively, as an historic phenomenon — which rules it out from 
the start. 

It is only by a decisive "leap," from objective thinking 
into subjective faith, with the consciousness of sin as the 
driving power, that the individual may realize (we would 
say, attain) Christianity. Nor is it gained once for all, but 
must ever be maintained by passionately assailing the para- 
dox of faith, which is, that one's eternal salvation is based 
on an historic fact. The main thing always is the "how," 
not the "what." Kierkegaard goes so far as to say that he 
who with fervency and inwardness prays to some false 
god is to be preferred to him who worships the true god, 
but without the passion of devotion. 

In order to prevent any misunderstanding about the man- 
ner of presentation in this remarkable book, it will be well 
to add Kierkegaard's own remark after reading a con- 
scientious German review of his "Trifles": "Although the 
account given is correct, every one who reads it will obtain 
an altogether incorrect impression of the book ; because the 
account the critic gives is in the ex cathedra style {docer- 
ende), which will produce on the reader the impression that 

Selections from the Writings of Kierkegaard 31 

the book is written in a like manner. But this is in my 
eyes the worst misconception possible." And as to its pe- 
culiar conversational, entertaining manner which in the 
most leisurely, legere fashion and in an all but dogmatic 
style treats of the profoundest problems, it is well to recall 
the similarly popular manner of Pascal in his Lettres 
Provinciales. Like him — and his grand prototype Socrates — 
Kierkegaard has the singular faculty of attacking the most 
abstruse matters with a chattiness bordering on frivolity, 
yet without ever losing dignity. 

For four and a half years Kierkegaard had now, not- 
withstanding his feeble health, toiled feverishly and, as he 
himself states, without even a single day's remission. And 
"the honorarium had been rather Socratic" : all of his books 
had been brought out at his own expense, and their sale had 
been, of course, small. (Of the "Final Postscript," e.g., 
which had cost him between 500 and 600 rixdollars, only 
60 copies were sold) . Hardly any one had understood what 
the purpose of this "literature" was. He himself had done, 
with the utmost exertion and to the best of his ability, what 
he set out to do : to show his times, which had assumed that 
being a Christian is an easy enough matter, how unspeak- 
ably difficult a matter it really is and what terribly severe 
demands it makes on natural man. He now longed for rest 
and seriously entertained the plan of bringing his literary 
career to a close and spending the remainder of his days 
as a pastor of some quiet country parish, there to convert 
his philosophy into terms of practical existence. But this 
was not to be. An incident which would seem ridicuously 
small to a more robust nature suflaced to inflict on Kierke- 
gaard's sensitive mind the keenest tortures and thus to 
sting him into a renewed and more passionate literary 

As it happened, the comic paper Korsaren "The Corsair" 
was then at the heyday of its career. The first really dem- 
ocratic periodical in Denmark, it stood above party lines 
and through its malicious, brilliant satire and amusing car- 

32 University of Texas Bulletin 

icatures of prominent personalities was hated, feared, and 
enjoyed by everybody. Its editor, the Jewish author Meir 
Goldschmidt, was a warm and outspoken admirer of the 
philosopher. Kierkegaard, on the other hand, had long 
regarded the Press with suspicion. He loathed it because 
it gave expression to, and thus subtly flattered, the multi- 
tude, "the public," "the mob" — as against the individual, 
and because it worked with the terrible weapon of anonym- 
ity; but held it especially dangerous by reason of its enor- 
mous circulation and daily repetition of mischievous false- 
hoods. So it seemed to him who ever doubted the ability of 
the "people" to think for themselves. In a word, the Press 
is to him "the evil principle in the modern world." Need- 
less to say, the tactics of "The Corsair," in particular, in- 
furiated him. 

In a Christmas annual (1845) there had appeared a 
blundering review, by one of the collaborators on "The Cor- 
sair," of his "Stages on Life's Road." Seizing the oppor- 
tunity offered, Kierkegaard wrote a caustic rejoinder, add- 
ing the challenge: "Would that I now soon appear in The 
Corsair.' It is really hard on a poor author to be singled 
out in Danish literature by remaining the only one who is 
not abused in it." We know now that Goldschmidt did his 
best in a private interview to ward off a feud, but when 
rebuffed he turned the batteries of his ridicule on the per- 
sonality of his erstwhile i^ol. And for the better part of a 
year the Copenhagen public was kept laughing and grin- 
ning about the unequal trouser legs, the spindle shanks, the 
inseparable umbrella, the dialectic propensities, of "Either 
— Or," as Kierkegaard came to be called by the populace; 
for, owing to his peripatetic habits — acquired in connection 
with the Indirect Communication — he had long been a fa- 
miliar figure on the streets of the capital. While trying to 
maintain an air of indifference, he suffered the tortures of 
the damned. In his Journal (several hundred of whose 
pages are given over to reflections on this experience) we 
find exclamations such as this one : "What is it to be roasted 
alive at a slow fire, or to be broken on the wheel or, as they 
do in warm climates, to be smeared with honey and put at 

Selections from the Writings of Kierkegaard 33 

the mercy of the insects — what is that in comparison with 
this torture : to be grinned to death !" 

There could be no thought now of retiring to a peaceful 
charge in the country. That would have been fleeing from 
persecution. Besides, unbeknown perhaps to himself, his 
pugnacity was aroused. While under the influence of the 
"Corsair Feud" (as it is known in Danish literature) he 
completes the booklet "A Literary Review." This was orig- 
inally intended as a purely aesthetic evaluation and appre- 
ciation of the (then anonymous) author" of the Hverdags- 
historier "Commonplace Stories" that are praised by him 
for their thoughtful bodying forth of a consistent view of 
life which — howevei> different from his own — yet com- 
manded his respect. He now appended a series of bitter 
reflections on the Present Times, paying his respects to the 
Press, which he calls incomparably the worst offender in 
furnishing people with cheap irony, in forcibly levelling out 
and reducing to mediocrity all those who strive to rise above 
it intellectually — words applicable, alas ! no less to our own 
times. To him, however, who in a religious sense has be- 
come the captain of his soul, the becoming a butt of the 
Press is but a true test. Looking up, Kierkegaard sees in 
his own fate the usual reward accorded by mankind to the 
courageous souls who dare to fight for the truth, for the 
ideal — for Christianity, against the "masses." In a mod- 
ern way, through ridicule, he was undergoing the martyr- 
dom which the blood witnesses of old had undergone for the 
sake of their faith. Their task it had been to preach the 
Gospel among the heathen. His, he reasoned, was in no- 
wise easier: to make clear to uncomprehending millions of 
so-called Christians that they were not Christians at all, 
that they did not even know what Christianity is : suffering 
and persecution, as he now recognizes, being inseparable 
from the truly Christian life. 

First, then, the road had to be cleared, emphatically, for 
the truth that Christianity and "the public" are opposite 
terms. The collection of "Edifying Discourses in Diverse 

'Mrs. Thomasine Gyllembourg-Ehrensvard. 

34 University of Texas Bulletin 

Spirits" is thus a religious parallel to the polemic in his 
"Review." The first part of these meditations has for its 
text : "The purity of the heart consists in willing one thing" 
— and this one thing is necessarily the good, the ideal; but 
only he who lives his life as the individual can pos- 
sibly will the good — else it is lived in duplicity, for the 
world will share his aspirations, he will bid for the rewards 
which the bowing before the crowd can give him. In the 
second part, entitled "What we may learn from the Lilies 
of the Field and the Birds of the Air" — one of Kierke- 
gaard's favorite texts — ^the greatest danger to the ethico- 
religious life is shown to be the uneasiness about our ma- 
terial welfare which insidiously haupts our thought-life, 
and, notwithstanding our best endeavors, renders us essen- 
tially slaves to "the crowd"; whereas it is given to man, 
created in the image of God, to be as self-contained, una- 
fraid, hopeful as are (symbolically) the lily and the bird. 
The startlingly new development attained through his re- 
cent experiences is most evident in the third part, "The 
Gospel of Sufferings," in which absolute stress is laid on 
the imitation of Christ in the strictest sense. Only the 
"individual" can compass this : the narrow way to salvation 
must be traveled alone; and will lead to salvation only if 
the world is, literally, overcome in persecution and tribu- 
lation. And, on the other hand, to be happy in this world 
is equivalent to forfeiting salvation. Thus briefly outlined, 
the contents of this book would seem to be sheer monkish 
asceticism; but no synopsis, however full, can hope to give 
an idea of its lyrical pathos, its wealth of tender reflections, 
the great love tempering the stern severity of its teaching. 

With wonderful beauty "The Deeds of Love" (Kjerlighe- 
dens Gjerninger) (1847) are exalted as the Christian's help 
and salvation against the tribulations of the world — love, 
not indeed of the human kind, but of man through God. 
"You are not concerned at all with what others do to you, 
but only with what you do to others ; and also, with how you 
react to what others do to you — ^you are concerned, essen- 
tially, only with yourself, before God." 

In rapid succession there follow "Christian Discourses" ; 

Selections from the Writings of Kierkegaard 35 

"The Lily of the Field and the Bird of the Air" ; "Sickness 
Unto Death" (with the sub-title "A Christian Psycholog- 
ical Exposition"); "Two Religious Treatises"; "The High 
Priest, the Publican, the Sinner" ; "Three Discourses on the 
Occasion of Communion on Friday." 

In the course of these reflections it had become increas- 
ingly clear to Kierkegaard that the self-constituted repre- 
sentative of Christ — the Church or, to mention only the or- 
ganization he was intimately acquainted with, the Danish 
State Church — had succeeded in becoming a purely worldly 
organization whose representatives, far from striving to 
follow Christ, had made life quite comfortable for them- 
selves ; retort to which was presently made that by thus 
stressing "contemporaneousness" with its aspects of suffer- 
ing and persecution, Kierkegaard had both exceeded the ac- 
cepted teaching of the Church and staked the attainment of 
Christianity so high as to drive all existing forms of it 
dd absurdum. 

In his hidovelse i Christendom "Preparation for a Chris- 
tian Life" and the somber Til Selvprovelse "For a Self-Ex- 
amination" Kierkegaard returns to the attack with a pow- 
erful re-examination of the whole question as to how far 
modern Christianity corresponds to that of the Founder. 
Simply, but with grandiose power, he works out in concrete 
instances the conception of "contemporaneousness" gained 
in the "Final Postscript" ; at the same time demonstrating 
to all who have eyes to see, the axiomatic connection between 
the doctrine of Propitiation and Christ's life in debasement ; 
that Christianity consists in absolutely dying to the world ; 
and that the Christianity which does not live up to this is 
but a travesty on Christianity. We may think what we 
please about this counsel of perfection, and judge what we 
may about the rather arbitrary choice of Scripture passages 
on which Kierkegaard builds : no serious reader, no sincere 
Christian can escape the searching of heart sure to follow 
this tremendous arraignment of humanity false to its divine 
leader. There is nothing more impressive in all modern 
literature than the gallery of "opinions" voiced by those ar- 

36 University of Texas Bulletin 

rayed against Christ when on earth — and now — as to what 
constitutes the "offense." 

Kierkegaard had hesitated a long time before publishing 
the "Preparation for a Christian Life." Authority-loving 
as he was, he shrank from antagonizing the Church, as it 
was bound to do; and more especially, from giving offense 
to its primate, the venerable Bishop Mynster who had been 
his father's friend and spiritual adviser, to whom he had 
himself always looked up with admiring reverence, and 
whose sermons he had been in the habit of reading at all 
times. Also, to be sure, he was restrained by the thought 
that by publishing his book he would render Christianity 
well-night unattainable to the weak and the simple and the 
afflicted who certainly were in need of the consolations of 
Christianity without any additional sufferings interposed — 
and surely no reader of his devotional works can be in 
doubt that he was the most tender-hearted of men. In 
earlier, stronger times, he imagines, he would have been 
made a martyr for his opinions ; but was he entitled 
to become a blood-witness — he who realized more keenly 
than any one that he himself was not a Christian in the 
strictest sense? In his "Two Religious Treatises" he de- 
bates the question : "Is it permissible for a man to let him- 
self be killed for the truth?" ; which is answered in the neg- 
ative in "About the Difference between a Genius and an 
Apostle" — which consists in the Apostle's speaking with au- 
thority. However, should not the truth be the most im- 
portant consideration? His journal during that time offers 
abundant proof of the absolute earnestness with which he 
struggled over the question. 

When Kierkegaard finally published "The Preparation 
for a Christian Life," the bishop was, indeed, incensed ; but 
he did nothing. Nor did any one else venture forth. Still 
worse affront! Kierkegaard had said his last word, had 
stated his ultimatum — and it was received with indiffer- 
ence, it seemed. Nevertheless he decided to wait and see 
what effect his books would have for he hesitated to draw 

Selections from the Writings of Kierkegaard 37 

the last conclusions and mortally wound the old man totter- 
ing on the brink of his grave by thus attacking the Church. 
There followed a three years' period of silence on the part 
of Kierkegaard — again certainly a proof of his utter sin- 
cerity. It must be remembered, in this connection, that the 
very last thing Kierkegaard desired was an external re- 
organization, a "reform," of the Church — indeed, he firmly 
refused to be identified with any movement of secession, 
differing in this respect vitally from his contemporaries 
Vinet and Grundtvig who otherwise had so much in common 
with him. His only wish was to infuse life and inwardness 
into the existing forms. And far from being inferior to 
them in this he was here at one with the Founder and the 
Early Church in that he states the aim of the Christian 
Life to be, not to transform the existing social order, but 
to transcend it. For the very same reason, coupled to be 
sure with a pronounced aristocratic individualism, he is ut- 
terly and unreasonably indifferent, and even antagonistic, 
to the great social movements of his time, to the political 
upheavals of 1848, to the revolutionary advances of science. 

As Kierkegaard now considered his career virtually con- 
cluded, he wrote (1851) a brief account "About my Activ- 
ity as an Author" in which he furnishes his readers a key 
to its unfolding — f r o m an aesthetic view t o the religious 
view — which he considers his own education by Providence ; 
and indicates it to be his special task to call atten- 
t.i o n, without authority, to the religious, the Christian life. 
His "Viewpoint for my Activity as an Author," published 
by his brother only long after his death, likewise defines the 
purpose of the whole "authorship," besides containing im- 
portant biographical material. 

At length (January, 1854) Mynster died. Even then 
Kierkegaard, though still on his guard, might not have felt 
called upon to have recourse to stronger measures if it had 
not been for an unfortunate sentence in the funeral sermon 
preached by the now famous Martensen — generally pointed 
out as the successor to the primacy — with whom Kierke- 
gaard had already broken a lance or two. Martensen had 
declared Mynster to have been "one of the holy chain of 

38 University of Texas Bulletin 

witnesses for the truth (sandhedsvidner) which extends 
through the centuries down from the time of the Apostles." 
This is the provocation for which Kierkegaard had waited. 
"Bishop Mynster a witness for the truth"! he bursts out, 
"You who read this, you know well what in a Christian 
sense is a witness for the truth. Still, let me remind you 
that to be one, it is absolutely essential to suffer for the 
teaching of Christianity" ; whereas "the truth is that Myn- 
ster was wordly-wise to a degree — was weak, pleasure- 
loving, and great only as a declaimer." But once more — 
striking proof of his circumspection and single-mindedness 
— he kept this harsh letter in his desk for nine months, 
lest its publication should interfere in the least with Mar- 
tensen's appointment, or seem the outcome of personal re- 

Martensen's reply, which forcefully enough brings out all 
that could be said for a milder interpretation of the Christian 
categories and for his predecessor, was not as respectful 
to the sensitive author as it ought to have been. In a num- 
ber of newspaper letters of increasing violence and acerbity 
Kierkegaard now tried to force his obstinately silent op- 
ponent to his knees ; but in vain. Filled with holy wrath at 
what he conceived to be a conspiracy by silence, and evasions 
to bring to naught the whole infinitely important matter for 
which he had striven, Kierkegaard finally turned agitator. 
He addressed himself directly to the people with the cele- 
brated pamphlet series Oieblikket "The Present Moment" 
in which he opens an absolutely withering fire of invective 
on anything and everything connected with "the existing 
order" in Christendom — an agitation the like of which for 
revolutionary vehemence has rarely, if ever, been seen. All 
rites of the Church — marriage, baptism, confirmation, com- 
munion, burial — and most of all the clergy, high and low, 
draw the fiery bolts of his wrath and a perfect hail of fierce, 
cruel invective. The dominant note, though varied infinitely, 
is ever the same : "Whoever you may be, and whatever the 
life you live, my friend: by omitting to attend the public 
divine service — if indeed it be your habit to attend it — by 
omitting I to attend public divine service as now constituted 

Selections from the Writings of Kierkegaard 39 

(claiming as it does to represent the Christianity of the 
New Testament) you will escape at least one, and a great, 
sin in not attempting to fool God by calling that the 
Christianity of the New Testament which is not the Chris- 
tianity of the New Testament." And he does not hesitate 
to use strong, even coarse, language ; he even courts the re- 
proach of blasphemy in order to render ridiculous in "Offi- 
cial Christianity" what to most may seem inherently, though 
mistakenly, a matter of highest reverence. 

The swiftness and mercilessness of his attack seem to 
have left his contemporaries without a weapon: all they 
could do was to shrug their shoulders about the "fanatic," 
or to duck and wait dumbly until the storm had passed. 

Nor did it last long. On the second of October, 1855, 
Kierkegaard fell unconscious in the street. He was brought 
to the hospital where he died on the eleventh of November, 
aged 42. The immense exertions of the last months had 
shattered his frail body. And strange : the last of his money 
had been used up. He had said what he thought Provi- 
dence had to communicate through him. His strength was 
gone. His death at this moment would put the crown on 
his work. As he said on his death-bed: "The bomb ex- 
plodes, and the conflagration will follow." 

In appraising Kierkegaard's life and works it will be 
found true, as Hoffding says, that he can mean much even 
to those who do not subscribe to the beliefs so unquestion- 
ingly entertained by him. And however much they may 
regret that he poured his noble wine into the old bottles, 
they cannot fail to recognize the yeoman's service he did, 
both for sincere Christians in compelling them to rehearse 
inwardly what ever tends to become a matter of form : what 
it means to be a Christian; and for others, in deepening 
their sense of individual responsibility. In fact, every one 
who has once come under his influence and has wrestled 
with this mighty spirit will bear away some blessing. In 
a time when, as in our own, the crowd, society, the millions, 
the nation, had depressed the individual to an insignificant 

40 University of Texas Bulletin 

atom — and what is worse, in the individual's own estima- 
tion; when shallow altruistic, socializing effort thought 
naively that the millenium was at hand, he drove the truth 
home that, on the contrary, the individual is the measure 
of all things; that we do not live en masse; that both the 
terrible responsibility and the great satisfactions of life in- 
here in the individual. Again, more forcibly than any one 
else in modern times, certainly more cogently than Pascal, 
he demonstrated that the possibility of proof in religion is 
an illusion ; that doubt cannot be combatted by reason, that 
it ever will be c7^edo quia impossibile. In religion, he 
showed the utter incompatibility of the aesthetic and the 
religious life; and in Christianity, he re-stated and re- 
pointed the principle of ideal perfection by his unremitting 
insistence on contemporaneousness with Christ. It is an- 
other matter whether by so doing Kierkegaard was about to 
pull the pillars from underneath the great edifice of Chris- 
tianity which housed both him and his enemies : seeing that 
he himself finally doubted whether it had ever existed apart 
from the Founder and, possibly, the Apostles. 

Kierkegaard is not easy reading. One's first impression 
of crabbedness, whimsicality, abstruseness will, however, 
soon give way to admiration of the marvellous instrument 
of precision language has become in his hands. To be 
sure, he did not write for people who are in a hurry, nor 
for dullards. His closely reasoned paragraphs and, at times 
huge, though rhetorically faultless, periods require concen- 
trated attention, his involutions and repetitions, handled 
with such incomparable virtuosity, demand an everlasting 
readiness of comprehension on the part of the reader. On 
the other hand his philosophic work is delightfully "So- 
cratic," unconventional, and altogether "un-textbooklike." 
Kierkegaard himself wished that his devotional works 
should be read aloud. And, from a purely aesthetic point 
of view, it ought to be a delight for any orator to practice 
on the wonderful periods of e. g., "The Preparation," or of. 

Selections from the Writings of Kierkegaard 41 

say, the parable of the coach-horses in "Acts of the Apos- 
tles." They alone would be sufficient to place Kierkegaard 
in the front rank of prose writers of the nineteenth cen- 
tury where, both by the power of his utterance and the orig- 
inality of his thought, he rightfully belongs. 

In laying before an English speaking public selections 
from Kierkegaard's works, the translator has endeavored 
to give an adequate idea of the various aspects of his highly 
disparate works. For this purpose he has chosen a few 
large pieces, rather than given tidbits. He hopes to be 
pardoned for not having a slavish regard for Kierkegaard's 
very inconsequential paragraphing^ and for breaking, with 
no detriment, he believes, to the thought, some excessively 
long paragraphs into smaller units; which will prove more 
restful to the eye and more encouraging to the reader. As 
to occasional omissions — always indicated by dots — the pos- 
sessor of the complete works will readily identify them. 
In consonance with Kierkegaard's views on "contempora- 
neousness," no capitals are used in "The Preparation" when 
referring to Christ by pronouns. 

When Kierkegaard died, his influence, like that of So- 
crates, was just beginning to make itself felt. The complete 
translation into German of all his works^ and of many into 
other languages ; the magnificent new edition of his works^° 
and of his extraordinarily voluminous diaries," now nearing 
completion; and the steadily increasing number of books, 
pamphlets, and articles from the most diverse quarters 
testify to his reaching a growing number of individuals. 
Below is given a list of the more important books and 
articles on Kierkegaard. It does not aim at completeness. 

sWith signal exception of "The Present Moment." 
"In process of publication. Jena. 

loSamlede Vaerker. Copenhagen, 1901-1906 (14 vols). In the 
notes abbreviated S. V. Still another edition is preparing. 
"Copenhagen, 1909 ff. 

42 University of Texas Bulletin 

Barthold, A. S. K., Eine Verfasserexistenz eigner Art. 

Halberstadt, 1873. 
Same : Noten zu S. K.'s Lebensgeschichte. Halle, 1876. 
Same : Die Bedeutung der aesthetischen Schriften S. K.'s. 

Halle, 1879. 
Barfod, H. P. (Introduction to the first edition of the 

Diary.) Copenhagen, 1869. 
Bohlin, Th. S. K.'s Etiska Askadning. Uppsala, 1918. 
Brandes, G. S. K., En kritisk Fremstilling i'Grundrids. 

Copenhagen, 1877. 
Same : German ed. Leipsic, 1879. 

Deleuran, V. Esquisse d'une etude sur S. K. These, Uni- 
versity of Paris, 1897. 
Hoffding, H. S. K. Copenhagen, 1892. 
Same: German edition (2nd). Stuttgart, 1902. 
Hoffmann, R. K. und die religiose Gewissheit. Gottin- 

gen, 1910. 
Jensen, Ch. S. K.'s religiose Udvikling. Aarhus, 1898. 
Monrad, 0. P. S. K. Sein Leben und seine Werke. Jena, 

Miinch, Ph. Haupt und Grundgedanken der Philosophie 

S. K.'s. Leipsic, 1902. 
Rosenberg, P. A. S. K., hans Liv, hans Personlighed og 

hans Forfatterskab. Copenhagen, 1898. 
Rudin, W. S. K.'s Person och Forfatterskap. Fbrste 

Afdelningen. Stockholm, 1880. 
Schrempf, Ch. S. K.'s Stellung zu Bibel und Dogma. 

Zeitschrift fur Theologie und Kirche, 1891, p. 179. 
Same: S. K. Ein unfreier Pionier der Freiheit. (With a 

foreword by Hoffding) Frankfort, 1909. 
Swenson, D. The Anti-Intellectualism of K. Philosophic 

Review, 1916, p. 567. 

To my friends and colleagues, Percy M. Dawson and 
Howard M. Jones, I wish also in this place to express my 
thanks for help and criticism "in divers spirits." 


What is a poet? An unhappy man who conceals pro- 
found anguish in his heart, but whose lips are so fashioned 
that when sighs and groans pass over them they sound like 
beautiful music. His fate resembJes that of the unhappy 
men who were slowly roasted by a gentle fire in the tyrant 
Phalaris' bull — their shrieks could not reach his ear to 
terrify him, to him they sounded like sweet music. And 
people flock about the poet and say to him : do sing again ; 
which means, would that new sufferings tormented your 
soul, and: would that your lips stayed fashioned as before, 
for your cries would only terrify us, but your music is de- 
lightful. And the critics join them, saying : well done, thus 
must it be according to the laws of aesthetics. Why, to 
be sure, a critic resembles a poet as one pea another, the 
only difference being that he has no anguish in his heart 
and no music on his lips. Behold, therefore would I rather 
be a swineherd on Amager,- and be understood by the swine 
than a poet, and misunderstood by men. 

In addition to my numerous other acquaintances I have 
still one more intimate friend — my melancholy. In the 
midst of pleasure, in the midst of work, he beckons to me, 
calls me aside, even though I remain present bodily. My 
melancholy is the most faithful sweetheart I have had — no 
wonder that I return the love ! 

^Interlude (of aphorisms). Selection. 

2A flat island south of the capital, called the "Kitchen Garden of 

44 University of Texas Bulletin 

Of all ridiculous things the most ridiculous seems to me, 
to be busy — to be a man who is brisk about his food and 
his work. Therefore, whenever I see a fly settling, in the 
decisive moment, on the nose of such a person of affairs; 
or if he is spattered with mud from a carriage which drives 
past him in still greater haste ; or the drawbridge opens up 
before him ; or a tile falls down and knocks him dead, then 
I laugh heartily. And who, indeed, could help laughing? 
What, I wonder, do these busy folks get done? Are they 
not to be classed with the woman who in her confusion 
about the house being on fire carried out the fire-tongs? 
What things of greater account, do you suppose, will they 
rescue from life's great conflagration? 

Let others complain that the times are wicked. I com- 
plain that they are paltry; for they are without passion. 
The thoughts of men are thin and frail like lace, and they 
themselves are feeble like girl lace-makers. The thoughts 
of their hearts are too puny to be sinful. For a worm it 
might conceivably be regarded a sin to harbor thoughts 
such as theirs, not for a man who is formed in the image of 
God. Their lusts are staid and sluggish, their passions 
sleepy; they do their duty, these sordid minds, but permit 
themselves, as did the Jews, to trim the coins just the least 
little bit, thinking that if our Lord keep tab of them ever 
so carefully one might yet safely venture to fool him a bit. 
Fye upon them! It is therefore my soul ever returns to 
the Old Testament and to Shakespeare. There at least 
one feels that one is dealing with men and women; there 
one hates and loves, there one murders one's enemy and 
curses his issue through all generations — ^there one sins. 

Just as, according to the legend,"* Parmeniscus in the Tro- 

^Told by Athenaios. 

Selections from the Writings of Kierkegaard 45 

phonian cave lost his ability to laugh, but recovered it again 
on the island of Delos at the sight of a shapeless block which 
was exhibited as the image of the goddess Leto: likewise 
did it happen to me. When I was very young I forgot in 
the Trophonian cave how to laugh ; but when I grew older 
and opened my eyes and contemplated the real world, I had 
to laugh, and have not ceased laughing, ever since. I be- 
held that the meaning of life was to make a living ; its goal, 
to become Chief Justice ; that the delights of love consisted 
in marrying a woman with ample means; that it was the 
blessedness of friendship to help one another in financial 
difficulties; that wisdom was what most people supposed 
it to be ; that it showed enthusiasm to make a speech, and 
courage, to risk being fined 10 dollars ; that it was cordiality 
to say "may it agree with you" after a repast; that it 
showed piety to partake of the communion once a year. I 
saw that and laughed. 

A strange thing happened to me in my dream. I was 
rapt into the Seventh Heaven. There sat all the gods as- 
sembled. As a special dispensation I was granted the favor 
to have one wish. "Do you wish for youth," said Mercury, 
"or for beauty, or power, or a long life ; or do you wish for 
the most beautiful woman, or any other of the many fine 
things we have in our treasure trove ? Choose, but only one 
thing!" For a moment I was at a loss. Then I addressed 
the gods in this wise: "Most honorable contemporaries, I 
choose one thing — that I may always have the laughs on 
my side." Not one god made answer, but all began to laugh. 
From this I concluded that my wish had been granted and 
thought that the gods knew how to express themselves with 
good taste; for it would surely have been inappropriate 
to answer gravely; your wish has been granted. 


It was on one of the last days in July, at ten o'clock in 
the evening, when the participants in that banquet assem- 
bled together. Date and year I have forgotten; indeed, 
this would be interesting only to one's memory of details, 
and not to one's recollection of the contents of what expe- 
rience. The "spirit of the occasion" and whatever im- 
pressions are recorded in one's mind under that heading, 
concerns only one's recollections; and just as generous wine 
gains in flavor by passing the Equator, because of the evap- 
oration of its watery particles, likewise does recollection 
gain by getting rid of the watery particles of memory; 
and yet recollection becomes as little a mere figment of the 
imagination by this process as does the generous wine. 

The participants were five in number: John, with the 
epithet of the Seducer, Victor Eremita, Constantin Constan- 
tius, and yet two others whose names I have not exactly 
forgotten — which would be a matter of small importance — 
but whose names I did not learn. It was as if these two 
had no proper names, for they were constantly addressed 
by some epithet. The one was called the Young Person. 
Nor was he more than twenty and some years, of slender 
and delicate build, and of a very dark complexion. His 
face was thoughtful ; but more pleasing even was its lovable 
and engaging expression which betokened a purity of soul 
harmonizing perfectly with the soft charm, almost fem- 
inine, and the transparency of his whole presence. This 
external beauty of appearance was lost sight of, however, 
in one's next impression of him ; or, one kept it only in mind 
whilst regarding a youth nurtured or — to use a still ten- 
derer expression — petted into being, by thought, and nour- 
ished by the contents of his own soul — a youth who as yet 
had had nothing to do with the world, had been neither 
aroused and fired, nor disquieted and disturbed. Like a 
sleep-walker he bore the law of his actions within himself, 
and the amiable, kindly expression of his countenance con- 
cerned no one, but only mirrored the disposition of his soul. 

Selections from the Writings of Kierkegaard 47 

The other person they called the Dressmaker, and that 
was his occupation. Of him it was impossible to get a con- 
sistent impression. He was dressed according to the very 
latest fashion, with his hair curled and perfumed, fragrant 
with eau-de-cologne. One moment his carriage did not lack 
self-possession, whereas in the next it assumed a certain 
dancing, festive air, a certain hovering motion which, how- 
ever, was kept in rather definite bounds by the robustness 
of his figure. Even when he was most malicious in his 
speech his voice ever had a touch of the smooth-tonguedness 
of the shop, the suaveness of the dealer in fancy-goods, 
which evidently was utterly disgusting to himself and only 
satisfied his spirit of defiance. As I think of him now I 
understand him better, to be sure, than when I first saw 
him step out of his carriage and I involuntarily laughed. 
At the same time there is some contradiction left still. He 
had transformed or bewitched himself, had by the magic of 
his own will assumed the appearance of one almost half- 
witted, but had not thereby entirely satisfied himself; and 
this is why his reflectiveness now and then peered forth 
from beneath his disguise. 

As I think of it now it seems rather absurd that five such 
persons should get a banquet arranged. Nor would any- 
thing have come of it, I suppose, if Constantin had not been 
one of us. In a retired room of a confectioner's shop where 
they met at times, the matter had been broached once be- 
fore, but had been dropped immediately when the question 
arose as to who was to head the undertaking. The Young 
Person was declared unfit for that task, the Dressmaker 
affirmed himself to be too busy. Victor Eremita did not 
beg to be excused because "he had married a wife or bought 
a yoke of oxen which he needed to prove";' but, he said, 
even if he should make an exception, for once, and come to 
the banquet, yet he would decline the courtesy offered him 
to preside at it, and he therewith "entered protest at the 
proper time."- This, John considered a work spoken in due 

'Cf. Luke XIV, 19-20. 
*Words used in the banns. 

48 University of Texas Bulletin 

season ; because, as he saw it, there was but one person able 
to prepare a banquet, and that was the possessor of the 
wishing-table which set itself with delectable things when 
ever he said to it "Cover thyself !" He averred that to enjoy 
the charms of a young girl in haste was not always the 
wisest course ; but as to a banquet, he would not wait for it, 
and generally was tired of it a long while before it came off. 
However, if the plan was to be carried into effect he would 
make one condition, which was, that the banquet should be 
so arranged as to be served in one course. And that all 
were agreed on. Also, that the settings for it were to be 
made altogether new, and that afterwards they were to be 
destroyed entirely; ay, before rising from table one was to 
hear the preparation for their destruction. Nothing was to 
remain ; "not even so much," said the Dressmaker, "as there 
is left of a dress after it has been made over into a hat." 
"Nothing," said John, "because nothing is more unpleasant 
than a sentimental scene, and nothing more disgusting than 
the knowledge that somewhere or other there is an external 
setting which in a direct and impertinent fashion pretends 
to be a reality." 

When the conversation had thus becpme animated, Victor 
Eremita suddenly arose, struck an attitude on the floor, 
beckoned with his hand in the fashion of one commanding 
and, holding his arm extended as one lifting a goblet, he 
said, with the gesture of one waving a welcome : "With this 
cup whose fragrance already intoxicates my senses, whose 
cool fire already inflames my blood, I greet you, beloved 
fellow-banqueters, and bid you welcome; being entirely as- 
sured that each one of you is sufficiently satisfied by our 
merely speaking about the banquet; for our Lord satisfied 
the stomach before satisfying the eye, but the imagination 
acts in the reverse fashion." Thereupon he inserted his 
hand in his pocket, took from it a cigar-case, struck a match, 
and began to smoke. When Constantin Constantius pro- 
tested against this sovereign free way of transforming the 
banquet planned into an illusory fragment of life, Victor 
declared that he did not believe for one moment that such 
a banquet could be got up and that, in any case, it had been 

Selections from the Writings of Kierkegaard 49 

a mistake to let it become the subject of discussion in ad- 
vance. "Whatever is to be good must come at once; for 
*at once' is the divinest of all categories and deserves to 
be honored as in the language of the Romans: ex templo,^ 
because it is the starting point for all that is divine in life, 
and so much so that what is not done at once is of evil." 
However, he remarked, he did not care to argue this point. 
In case the others wished to speak and act differently he 
would not say a word, but if they wished him to explain the 
sense of his remarks more fully he must have leave to make 
a speech, because he did not consider it all desirable to pro- 
voke a discussion on the subject. 

Permission was given him; and as the others called on 
him to do so at once, he spoke as follows : "A banquet is in 
itself a difficult matter, because even if it be arranged with 
ever so much taste and talent there is something else essen- 
tial to its success, to-wit, good luck. And by this I mean 
not such matters as most likely would give concern to an 
anxious hostess, but something different, a something which 
no one can make absolutely sure of: a fortunate harmoniz- 
ing of the spirit and the minutiae of the banquet, that fine 
ethereal vibration of chords, that soul-stirring music which 
cannot be ordered in advance from the town-musicians. 
Look you, therefore is it a hazardous thing to undertake, 
because if things do go wrong, perhaps from the very start, 
one may suffer such a depression and loss of spirits that 
recovery from it might involve a very long time. 

"Sheer habit and thoughtlessness are father and god- 
father to most banquets, and it is only due to the lack of 
critical sense among people that one fails to notice the utter 
absence of any idea in them. In the first place, women 
ought never to be present at a banquet. Women may be 
used to advantage only in the Greek style, as a chorus of 
dancers. As it is the main thing at a banquet that there 
be eating and drinking, woman ought not to be present; 
for she cannot do justice to w^hat is offered; or, if she can, 
it is most unbeautiful. Whenever a woman is present the 

^Which in Latin means both "from the temple" and "at once." 

50 University of Texas Bulletin 

matter of eating and drinking ought to be reduced to the 
very slightest proportions. At most, it ought to be no more 
than some trifling feminine occupation, to have something 
to busy one's hands with. Especially in the country a little 
repast of this kind — which, by the way, should be put at 
other times than the principal meals — may be extremely de- 
lightful ; and if so, always owing to the presence of the other 
sex. To do like the English, who let the fair sex retire as 
soon as the real drinking is to start, is to fall between two 
stools, for every plan ought to be a whole, and the very man- 
ner with which I take a seat at the table and seize hold of 
knife and fork bears a definite relation to this whole. In< 
the same sense a political banquet presents an unbeautiful 
ambiguity inasmuch as one does not* want to cut down to a 
very minimum the essentials of a banquet, and yet does not 
wish to have the speeches thought of as having been made 
over the cups. 

"So far, we are agreed, I suppose; and our number — in 
case anything should come of the banquet — is correctly 
chosen, according to that beautiful rule : neither more than 
the Muses nor fewer than the Graces. Now I demand the 
greatest superabundance of everything thinkable. That is, 
even though everything be not actually there, yet the possi- 
bility of having it must be at one's immediate beck and call, 
aye, hover temptingly over the table, more seductive even 
than the actual sight of it. I beg to be excused, however, 
from banqueting on sulphur-matches or on a piece of sugar 
which all are to suck in turn. My demands for such a ban- 
quet will, on the contrary, be diflUcult to satisfy ; for the feast 
itself must be calculated to arouse and incite that unmen- 
tionable longing which each worthy participant is to bring 
with him. I require that the earth's fertility be at our 
service, as though everything sprouted forth at the very 
moment the desire for it was born. I desire a more luxu- 
rious abundance of wine than when Mephistopheles needed 
but to drill holes into the table to obtain it. I demand an 

<Thc omission of the negative particle in the original is no doubt 

Selections from the Writings of Kierkegaard 51 

illumination more splendid than have the gnomes when they 
lift up the mountain on pillars and dance in a sea of blazing 
light. I demand what most excites the senses, I demand 
their gratification by deliciously sweet perfumes, more 
superb than any in the Arabian Nights. I demand a cool- 
ness which voluptuously provokes desire and breathes re- 
laxation on desire satisfied. I demand a fountain's unceas- 
ing enlivenment. If Maecenas could not sleep without hear- 
ing the splashing of a fountain, I cannot eat without it. 
Do not misunderstand me, I can eat stockfish without it, 
but I cannot eat at a banquet without it ; I can drink water 
without it, but I cannot drink wine at a banquet without it. 
I demand a host of servants, chosen and comely, as if I sate 
at table with the gods ; I demand that there shall be music 
at the feast, both strong and subdued ; and I demand that it 
shall be an accompaniment to my thoughts ; and what con- 
cerns you, my friends, my demands regarding you are alto- 
gether incredible. Do you see, by reason of all these de- 
mands — which are as many reasons against it — I hold a 
banquet to be a pium desideratum,^ and am so far from de- 
siring a repetition of it that I presume it is not feasible 
even a first time." 

The only one who had not actually participated in this 
conversation, nor in the frustration of the banquet, was 
Constantin. Without him, nothing would have been done 
save the talking. He had come to a different conclusion 
and was of the opinion that the idea might well be realized, 
if one but carried the matter with a high hand. 

Then some time passed, and both the banquet and the 
discussion about it were forgotten, when suddenly, one day, 
the participants received a card of invitation from Constan- 
tius for a banquet the very same evening. The motto of the 
party had been given by him as: In Vino VeHtas, because 
there was to be speaking, to be sure, and not only coilver- 
sation ; but the speeches were not to be made except in vino, 
and no truth was to be uttered there excepting that which is 

'Pious wish. 

52 University of Texas Bulletin 

in vino — when the wine is a defense of the truth and the 
truth a defense of the wine. 

The place had been chosen in the woods, some ten miles 
distant from Copenhagen. The hall in which they were to 
feast had been newly decorated and in every way made un- 
recognizable ; a smaller room, separated from the hall by a 
corridor, was arranged for an orchestra. Shutters and cur- 
tains were let down before all windows, which were left 
open. The arrangement that the participants were to drive 
to the banquet in the evening hour was to intimate to them 
— and that was Constantin's idea — what was to follow. 
Even if one knows that one is driving to a banquet, and the 
imagination therefore indulges for a moment in thoughts 
of luxury, yet the impression of the natural surroundings 
is too powerful to be resisted. That this might possibly not 
be the case was the only contingency he apprehended; for 
just as there is no power like the imagination to render 
beautiful all it touches, neither is there any power which 
can to such a degree disturb all — misfortune conspiring — 
if confronted with reality. But driving on a summer even- 
ing does not lure the imagination to luxurious thoughts, but 
rather to the opposite. Even if one does not see it or hear 
it, the imagination will unconsciously create a picture of 
the longing for home which one is apt to feel in the evening 
hours — one sees the reapers, man and maid, returning from 
their work in the fields, one hears the hurried rattling of 
the hay wagon, one interprets even the far-away lowing 
from the meadows as a longing. Thus does a summer even- 
ing suggest idyllic thoughts, soothing even a restless mind 
with its assuagement, inducing even the soaring imagina- 
tion to abide on earth with an indwelling yearning for home 
as the place from whence it came, and thus teaching the 
insatiable mind to be satisfied with little, by rendering one 
content ; for in the evening hour time stands still and eter- 
nity lingers. 

Thus they arrived in the evening hour : those invited ; for 
Constantin had come out somewhat earlier. Victor Eremita 
who resided in the country not far away came on horse- 
back, the others in a carriage. And just as they had dis- 

Selections from the Writings of Kierkegaard 53 

charged it, a light open vehicle rolled in through the gate 
carrying a merry company of four journeymen who were 
entertained to be ready at the decisive moment to function 
as a corps of destruction: just as firemen are stationed in a 
theatre, for the opposite reason at once to extinguish a fire. 

So long as one is a child one possesses sufficient imagina- 
tion to maintain one's soul at the very top-notch of expec- 
tation — for a whole hour in the dark room, if need be ; but 
when one has grown older one's imagination may easily 
cause one to tire of the Christmas tree before seeing it. 

The folding doors were opened. The effect of the ra- 
diant illumination, the coolness wafting toward them, the 
beguiling fragrance of sweet perfumes, the excellent taste 
of the arrangements, for a moment overwhelmed the feel- 
ings of those entering ; and when, at the same time, strain? 
from the ballet of "Don Juan" sounded from the orchestra, 
their persons seemed transfigured and, as if out of rever- 
ence for an unseen spirit about them, they stopped short for 
a moment like men who have been roused by admiration and 
who have risen to admire. 

Whoever knows that happy moment, whoever has ap- 
preciated its delight, and has not also felt the apprehension 
lest suddenly something might happen, some trifle perhaps, 
which yet might be sufficient to disturb all ! Whoever has 
held the lamp of Aladdin in his hand and has not also felt 
the swooning of pleasure, because one needs but to wish? 
Whoever has held what is inviting in his hand and has not 
also learned to keep his wrist limber to let go at once, if 
need be ? 

Thus they stood side by side. Only Victor stood alone, 
absorbed in thought ; a shudder seemed to pass through his 
soul, he almost trembled; he collected himself and saluted 
the omen with these words: "Ye mysterious, festive, and 
seductive strains which drew me out of the cloistered seclu- 
sion of a quiet youth and beguiled me with a longing as 
mighty as a recollection, and terrible, as though Elvira had 

54 University of Texas Bulletin 

not even been seduced but had only desired to be! Im- 
mortal Mozart, thou to whom I owe all; but no! as yet I 
do not owe thee all. But when I shall have become an old 
man — if ever I do become an old man ; or when I shall have 
become ten years older — if ever I do ; or when I am become 
old — if ever I shall become old; or when I shall die — for 
that, indeed, I know I shall: then shall I say: immortal 
Mozart, thou to whom I owe all — and then I shall let my 
admiration, which is my soul's first and only admiration, 
burst forth in all its might and let it make away with me. 
as it often has been on the point of doing. Then have I set 
my house in order," then have I remembered my beloved 
one, then have I confessed my love, then have I fully estab- 
lished that I owe thee all, then am I occupied no longer with 
thee, with the world, but only with the grave thought of 

Now there came from the orchestra that invitation in 
which joy triumphs most exultantly, and heaven-storming 
soars aloft above Elvira's sorrowful thanks ; and gracefully 
apostrophizing, John repeated: "Viva la liberta"; — "et 
Veritas," said the Young Person; "but above all, in vino," 
Constantin interrupted them, seating himself at the table 
and inviting the others to do likewise. 

• How easy to prepare a banquet ; yet Constanti«i declared 
that he never would risk preparing another. How easy to 
admire ; yet Victor declared that he never again would lend 
words to his admiration ; for to suffer a discomfiture is more 
dreadful than to become an invalid in war! How easy to 
express a desire, if one has the magic lamp ; yet that is at 
times more terrible than to perish of want ! 

They were seated. In the same moment the little com- 
pany were launched into the very middle of the infinite sea 
of enjoyment — as if with one single bound. Each one had 
addressed all his thoughts and all his desires to the banquet, 
had prepared his soul for the enjoyment which was offered 
to overflowing and in which their souls overflowed. The 
experienced driver is known by his ability to start the 

'■•2 Kings 20, 1; Isaiah 38, 1. 

Selections from the Writings of Kierkegaard 55 

snorting team with a single bound and to hold them well 
abreast ; the well-trained steed is known by his lifting him- 
self in one absolutely decisive leap : even if one or the other 
of the guests perhaps fell short in some particular, cer- 
tainly Constantin was a good host. 

Thus they banqueted. Soon, conversation had woven 
its beautiful wreaths about the banqueters, so that they 
sat garlanded. Now, it was enamored of the food, now 
of the wine, and now again of itself ; now, it seemed to de- 
velop into significance, and then again it was altogether 
slight. Soon, fancy unfolded itself — ^the splendid one which 
blows but once, the tender one which straightway closes its 
petals ; now, there came an exclamation from one of the ban- 
queters : "These truffles are superb," and now, an order of 
the host: "This Chateau Margaux!" Now, the music 
was drowned in the noise, now it was heard again. Some- 
times the servants stood still as if in pausa, in that decisive 
moment when a new dish was being brought out, or a new 
wine was ordered and mentioned by name, sometimes they 
were all a-bustle. Sometimes there was a silence for a mo- 
ment, and then the re-animating spirit of the music went 
forth over the guests. Now, one with some bold thought 
would take the lead in the conversation and the others fol- 
lowed after, almost forgetting to eat, and the music would 
sound after them as it sounds after the jubilant shouts of a 
host storming on ; now, only the clinking of glasses and the 
clattering of plates was heard and the feasting proceeded 
in silence, accompanied only by the music that joyously ad- 
vanced and again stimulated conversation. Thus they ban- 

How poor is language in comparison with that symphony 
of sounds unmeaning, yet how significant, whether of a 
battle or of a banquet, which even scenic representation 
cannot imitate and for which language has but a few words ! 
How rich is language in the expression of the world of 
ideas, and how poor, when it is to describe reality ! 

56 University of Texas Bulletin 

Only once did Constantin abandon his omnipresence in 
which one actually lost sight of his presence. At the very 
beginning he got them to sing one of the old drinking songs, 
"by way of calling to mind that jolly time when men and 
women feasted together," as he said — a proposal which had 
the positively burlesque effect he had perhaps calculated it 
should have. It almost gained the upper hand when the 
Dressmaker wanted them to sing the ditty : "When I shall 
mount the bridal bed, hoiho!" After a couple of courses 
had been served Constantin proposed that the banquet 
should conclude with each one's making a speech, but that 
precautions should be taken against the speakers' divagat- 
ing too much. He was for making two conditions, viz., there 
were to be no speeches until after the meal; and no one 
was to speak before having drunk sufficiently to feel the 
power of the wine — else he was to be in that condition m 
which one says much which under other circumstances one 
would leave unsaid — without necessarily having the connec- 
tion of speech and thought constantly interrupted by hic- 
coughs.^ Before speaking, then, each one was to declare 
solemnly that he was in that condition. No definite quan- 
tity of wine was to be required, capacities differed so widely. 
Against this proposal, John entered protest. He could never 
become intoxicated, he averred, and when he had come to a 
certain point he grew the soberer the more he drank. Victor 
Eremita was of the opinion that any such preparatory pre- 
meditations to insure one's becoming drunk would precisely 
militate against one's becoming so. If one desired to become 
intoxicated the deliberate wish was only a hindrance. Then 
there ensued some discussion about the divers influences of 
wine on consciousness, and especially about the fact that, 
in the case of a reflective temperament, an excess of wine 
may manifest itself, not in any particular impetus but, on 
the contrary, in a noticeably cool self-possession. As to the 
contents of the speeches, Constantin proposed that they 
should deal with love, that is, the relation between man and 
woman. No love stories were to be told though they might 
furnish the text of one's remarks. 

'An allusion to the plight of Aristophanes in Plato's Symposion. 

Selections from the Writings of Kierkegaard 57 

The conditions were accepted. All reasonable and just 
demands a host may make on his guests were fulfilled : they 
ate and drank, and "drank and were filled with drink," as 
the Bible has it ;* that is, they drank stoutly. 

The desert was served. Even if Victor had not, as yet, 
had his desire gratified to hear the splashing of a fountain 
— which, for that matter, he had luckily forgotten since that 
former conversation — now champagne flowed profusely. 
The clock struck twelve. Thereupon Constantin commanded 
silence, saluted the Young Person with a goblet and the 
words quod felix sit faustumque'^ and bade him to speak 

(The Young Person's Speech) 

The Young Person arose and declared that he felt the 
power of the wine, which was indeed apparent to some de- 
gree; for the blood pulsed strongly in his temples, and his 
appearance was not as beautiful as before the meal. He 
spoke as follows: 

If there be truth in the words of the poets, dear fellow- 
banqueters, then unrequited love is, indeed, the greatest of 
sorrows. Should you require any proof of this you need but 
listen to the speech of lovers. They say that it is death, 
certain death; and the first time they believe it — for the 
space of two weeks. The next time they say that it is death ; 
and finally they will die sometime — as the result of unre- 
quited love. For that love has killed them, about that there 
can obtain no doubt. And as to love's having to take hold 
three times to make away with them, that is not different 
from the dentist's having to pull three times before he is 
able to budge that firmly rooted molar. But, if unrequited 
love thus means certain death, how happy am I who have 
never loved and, I hope, will only achieve dying some time, 

**Haggai 1, 6 (inexact). 

oMay it be fortunate and favorable. 

58 University of Texas Bulletin 

and not from unrequited love! But just this may be the 
greatest misfortune, for all I know, and how unfortunate 
must I then be ! 

The essence of love probably (for I speak as does a blind 
man about colors), probably lies in its bliss; which is, in 
other words, that the cessation of love brings death to the 
lover. This I comprehend very well as in the nature of a 
hypothesis correlating life and death. But, if love is to be 
merely by way of hypothesis, why, then lovers lay them- 
selves open to ridicule through their actually falling in love. 
If, however, love is something real, why, then reality must 
bear out what lovers say about it. But did one in real life 
ever hear of, or observe, such things having taken place, 
even if there is hearsay to that effect? Here I perceive 
already one of the contradictions in which love involves a 
person; for whether this is different for those initiated, 
that I have no means of knowing; but love certainly does 
seem to involve people in the most curious contradictions. 

There is no other relation between human beings which 
makes such demands on one's ideality as does love, and yet 
love is never seen to have it. For this reason alone I would 
be afraid of love; for I fear that it might have the power 
to make me too talk vaguely about a bliss which I did not 
feel and a sorrow I did not have. I say this here since I 
am bidden to speak on love, though unacquainted with it — 
I say this in surroundings which appeal to me like a Greek 
symposion ; for I should otherwise not care to speak on this 
subject as I do not wish to disturb any one's happiness but, 
rather, am content with my own thoughts. Who knows 
but these thoughts are sheer imbecilities and vain imag- 
inings — perhaps my ignorance is explicable from the fact 
that I never have learned, nor have wished to learn, from 
any one, how one comes to love; or from the fact that I 
have never yet challenged a woman with a glance — which is 
supposed to be smart — but have always lowered my eyes, 
unwilling to yield to an impression before having fully 
made sure about the nature of the power into whose sphere 
I am venturing. 

Selections from the Wi'itings of Kierkegaard 59 

At this point he was interrupted by Constantin who ex- 
postulated with him because, by his very confession of never 
having been in love, he had debarred himself from speaking. 
The Young Person declared that at any other time he would 
gladly obey an injunction to that effect as he had often 
enough experienced how tiresome it was to have to make a 
speech ; but that in this case he would insist upon his right. 
Precisely the fact that one had had no love affair, he said, 
also constituted an affair of love; and he who could assert 
this of himself was entitled to speak about Eros just be- 
cause his thoughts were bound to take issue with the whole 
sex and not with individuals. He was granted permission 
to speak and continued. 

Inasmuch as my right to speak has been challenged, this 
may serve to exempt me from your laughter; for I know 
well that, just as among rustics he is not considered a man 
who does not call a tobacco pipe his own, likewise among 
men-folks he is not considered a real man who is not ex- 
perienced in love. If any one feels like laughing, let him 
laugh — my thought is, and remains, the essential considera- 
tion for me. Or is love, perchance, privileged to be the only 
event which is to be considered after, rather than before, 
it happens? If that be the case, what then if I, having fallen 
in love, should later on think that it was too late to think 
about it? Look you, this is the reason why I choose to 
think about love before it happens. To be sure, lovers also 
maintain that they gave the matter thought, but such is 
not the case. They assume it to be essential in man to fall 
in love; but this surely does not mean thinking about love 
but, rather, assuming it, in order to make sure of getting 
one's self a sweetheart. 

In fact, whenever my reflection endeavors to pin down 
love, naught but contradiction seems to remain. At times, 
it is true, I feel as if something had escaped me, but I can- 
not tell what it is, whereas my reflection is able at once to 
point out the contradictions in what does occur. Very well, 
then, in my opinion love is the greatest self-contradiction 

60 University of Texas Bulletin 

imaginable, and comical at the same time. Indeed, the one 
corresponds to the other. The comical is always seen to 
occur in the category of contradictions — which truth I can- 
not take the time to demonstrate now ; but what 1 shall dem- 
onstrate now is that love is comical. By love I mean the 
relation between man and woman. I am not thinking of 
Eros in the Greek sense which has been extolled so beauti- 
fully by Plato who, by the way, is so far from considering 
the love of woman that he mentions it only in passing, hold- 
ing it to be inferior to the love of youths.^*' I say, love is 
comical to a third person — more I say not. Whether it is 
for this reason that lovers always hate a third person I do 
not know ; but I do know that reflection is always in such 
a relation the third person, and for this reason I cannot love 
without at the same time having a third person present 
in the shape of my reflection. 

This surely cannot seem strange to any one, every one 
having doubted everything, whereas I am uttering my 
doubts only with reference to love. And yet I do think it 
strange that people have doubted everything and have again 
reached certainty, without as much as dropping a word con- 
cerning the difficulties which have held my thought captive 
— so much so that I have, now and then, longed to be freed 
of them — freed by the aid of one, note well, who was aware 
of these difficulties, and not of one who in his sleep had a 
notion to doubt, and to have doubted, everything, and again 
in his sleep had the notion that he is explaining, and has 
explained, all.^^ 

Let me then have your attention, dear fellow banqueters, 
and if you yourselves be lovers do not therefore interrupt 
me, nor try to silence me because you do not wish to hear the 
explanation. Rather turn away and listen with averted 
faces to what 1 have to say, and what I insist upon saying, 
having once begun. 

^^Symposion, ch. 9. 

''This ironic sally refers, not to Descartes' principle of skepsis, but 
to the numerous Danish followers of Hegel and his "method"; cf. 
Fear and Trembling, p. 119. 

Selections from the Writings of Kierkegaard 61 

In the first place I consider it comical that every one loves, 
and every one wishes to love, without any one ever being 
able to tell one what is the nature of the lovable or that 
which is the real object of love. As to the word "to love" 
I shall not discuss it since it means nothing definite ; but as 
soon as the matter is broached at all we are met by the 
question as to what it is one loves. No other answer is 
ever vouchsafed us on that point other than that one loves 
what is lovable. For if one should make answer, with 
Plato,^- that one is to love what is good, one has in taking 
this single step exceeded the bounds of the erotic. 

The answer may be offered, perhaps, that one is to love 
what is beautiful. But if I then should ask whether to love 
means to love a beautiful landscape or a beautiful paint- 
ing it would be immediately perceived that the erotic is not, 
as it were, comprised in the more general term of the love 
of things beautiful, but is something entirely of its own 
kind. Were a lover — ^just to give an example — to speak as 
follows, in order to express adequately how much love there 
dwelled in him : "I love beautiful landscapes, and my Lalage, 
and the beautiful dancer, and a beautiful horse — in short, 
I love all that is beautiful," his Lalage would not be satisfied 
with his encomium, however well satisfied she might be 
with him in all other respects, and even if she be beautiful ; 
and now suppose Lalage is not beautiful and he yet loved 

Again, if I should refer the erotic element to the bisection 
of which Aristophanes tells us^^ when he says that the gods 
severed man into two parts as one cuts flounders, and that 
these parts thus separated sought one another, then I again 
encounter a difficulty I cannot get over, which is, in how 
far I may base my reasoning on Aristophanes who in his 
speech — just because there is no reason for the thought to 
stop at this point — goes further in his thought and thinks 
that the gods might take it into their heads to divide man 
into three parts, for the sake of still better fun. For the 
sake of still better fun ; for is it not true, as I said, that love 

^-Symposion, ch. 24. 
'^Ibid., ch. 15-16. 

62 University of Texas Bulletin 

renders a person ridiculous, if not in the eyes of others then 
certainly in the eyes of the gods ? 

Now, let me assume that the erotic element resides es- 
sentially in the relation between man and woman — ^what is 
to be inferred from that? If the lover should say to his 
Lalage: I love you because you are a woman; I might as 
well love any other woman, as for instance, ugly Zoe : then 
beautiful Lalage would feel insulted. 

In what, then, consists the lovable? This is my ques- 
tion; but unfortunately, no one has been able to tell me. 
The individual lover always believes that, as far as he is 
concerned, he knows. Still he cannot make himself under- 
stood by any other lover; and he who listens to the speech 
of a number of lovers will learn that no two of them ever 
agree, even though they all talk about the same thing. Dis- 
regarding those altogether silly explanations which leave 
one as wise as before, that is, end by asserting that it is 
really the pretty feet of the beloved damsel, or the admired 
mustachios of the swain, which are the objects of love — 
disregarding these, one will find mentioned, even in the dec- 
lamations of lovers in the higher style, first a number of 
details and, finally, the declaration: all her lovable ways; 
and when they have reached the climax: that inexplicable 
something I do not know how to explain. And this speech 
is meant to please especially beautiful Lalage. Me it does 
not please, for I don't understand a word of it and find, 
rather, that it contains a double contradiction — first, that it 
ends with the inexplicable, second, that it ends 
with the inexplicable; for he who intends to end with the 
inexplicable had best begin with the inexplicable and then 
say no more, lest he lay himself open to suspicion. If he 
begin with the inexplicable, saying no more, then this does 
not prove his helplessness, for it is, anyway, an explanation 
in a negative sense; but if he does begin with something 
else and lands in the inexplicable, then this does certainly 
prove his helplessness. 

So then we see : to love corresponds to the lovable ; and 
the lovable is the inexplicable. Well, that is at least some- 
thing; but comprehensible it is not, as little as the inex- 

Selections from the Writings of Kierkegaard 63 

plicable way in which love seizes on its prey. Who, indeed, 
would not be alarmed if people about one, time and again, 
dropped down dead, all of a sudden, or had convulsions, 
without any one being able to account for it? But precisely 
in this fashion does love invade life, only with the difference 
that one is not alarmed thereby, since the lovers themselves 
regard it as their greatest happiness, but that one, on the 
contrary, is tempted to laugh ; for the comical and the trag- 
ical elements ever correspond to one another. Today, one 
may converse with a person and can fairly well make him 
out — ^tomorrow, he speaks in tongues and with strange ges- 
tures: he is in love. 

Now, if to love meant to fall in love with the first person 
that came along, it would be easy to understand that one 
could give no special reasons for it ; but since to love means 
to fall in love with one, one single person in all the world, 
it would seem as if such an extraordinary process' of sin- 
gling out ought to be due to such an extensive chain of rea- 
soning that one might have to beg to be excused from hear- 
ing it — not so much because it did not explain anything as 
because it might be too lengthy to listen to. But no,- the 
lovers are not able to explain anything at all. H e has seen 
hundreds upon hundreds of women; he is, perhaps, ad- 
vanced in years and has all along felt nothing — and all at 
once he sees her, her the Only one, Catherine. Is this 
not comical? Is it not comical that the relation which is 
to explain and beautify all life, love, is not like the mustard 
seed from which there grows a great tree,^* but being still 
smaller is, at bottom, nothing at all ; for not a single ante- 
cedent criterion can be mentioned, as e.g., that the phenom- 
enon occurred at a certain age, nor a single reason as to why 
he should select her, her alone in all the world — and that 
by no means in the same sense as when "Adam chose Eve, 
because there was none other."^^' 

Or is not the explanation which the lovers vouchsafe just 
as comical; or, does it not, rather, emphasize the comical 
aspect of love? They say that love renders one blind, and 

i*C/. Matthew 13, 31 etc. 

15A quotation from Musasus, Volksmdrchen der Deutachen, III, 219. 

64 University of Texas Bulletin 

by this fact they undertake to explain the phenomenon. 
Now, if a person who was going into a dark room to fetch 
something should answer, on my advising him to take a light 
along, that it was only a trifling matter he wanted and so he 
would not bother to take a light along — ah! then I would 
understand him excellently well. If, on the other hand, 
this same person should take me aside and, with an air of 
mystery, confide to me that the thing he was about to fetch 
was of the very greatest importance and that it was for this 
reason that he was able to do it in the dark — ah! then I 
wonder if my weak mortal brain could follow the soaring 
flight of his speech. Even if I should refrain from laugh- 
ing, in order not to offend him, I should hardly be able to 
restrain my mirth as soon as he had turned his back. But 
at love nobody laughs ; for I am quite prepared to be embar- 
rassed like the Jew who, after ending his story, asks: Is 
there no one who will laugh ?^« And yet I did not miss the 
point, as did the Jew, and as to my laughter I am far from 
wanting to insult any one. Quite on the contrary, I scorn 
those fools who imagine that their love has such good rea- 
sons that they can afford to laugh at other lovers ; for since 
love is altogether inexplicable, one lover is as ridiculous 
as the other. Quite as foolish and haughty I consider it 
also when a man proudly looks about him in the circle of 
girls to find who may be worthy of him, or when a girl 
proudly tosses her head to select or reject; because such 
persons are simply basing their thoughts on an unexplained 
assumption. No. What busies my thought is love as such, 
and it is love which seems ridiculous to me; and therefore 
I fear it, lest I become ridiculous in my own eyes, or ridicu- 
lous in the eyes of the gods who have fashioned man thus. 
In other words, if love is ridiculous it is equally ridiculous, 
whether now my sweetheart be a princess or a servant girl ; 
for the lovable, as we have seen, is the inexplicable. 

Look you, therefore do I fear love, and find precisely in 
this a new proof of love's being comical ; for my fear is so 

'«The reference is to a situation in Richard Cumberland's (1732- 
1811) play of "The Jew," known to Copenhagen playgoers in an 

Selections from the Writings of Kierkegaard 65 

curiously tragic that it throws light on the comical nature 
of love. When people wreck a building a sign is hung up to 
warn people, and I shall take care to stand from under; 
when a bar has been freshly painted a stone is laid in the 
road to apprise people of the fact ; when a driver is in danger 
of running a man over he will shout "look out" ; when there 
have been cases of cholera in a house a soldier is set as 
guard ; and so forth. What I mean is that if there is some 
danger, one may be warned and will successfully escape it 
by heeding the warning. Now, fearing to be rendered ridic- 
ulous by love, I certainly regard it as dangerous; so what 
shall I do to escape it? In other words, what shall I do to 
escape the danger of some woman falling in love with me? 
I am far from entertaining the thought of being an Adonis 
every girl is bound to fall in love with (relata refero,'' 
for what this means I do not understand) — goodness no! 
But since I do not know what the lovable is I cannot, by any 
manners of means, know how to escape this danger. Since, 
for that matter, the very opposite of beauty may constitute 
the lovable; and, finally, since the inexplicable also is the 
lovable, I am forsooth in the same situation as the man Jean 
Paul speaks of somewhere who, standing on one foot, reads 
a sign saying, "fox-traps here," and now does not dare, 
either to lift his foot or to set it down. 

No, love any one I will not, before I have fathomed what 
love is ; but this I cannot, but have, rather, come to the con- 
clusion that it is comical. Hence I will not love — but alas! 
I have not thereby avoided the danger, for, since I do not 
know what the lovable is and how it seizes me, or how it 
seizes a woman with reference to me, I cannot make sure 
whether I have avoided the danger. This is tragical and, 
in a certain sense, even profoundly tragical, even if no one 
is concerned about it, or if no one is concerned about the bit- 
ter contradiction for one who thinks — that a something ex- 
ists which everywhere exercises its power and yet is not to 
be definitely conceived by thought and which, perhaps, may 
attack from the rear him who in vain seeks to conceive it. 

^^I relate what I have been told. 


66 University of Texas Bulletin 

But as to the tragic side of the matter it has its deep reason 
in the comic aspects just pointed out. Possibly, every other 
person will turn all this upside down and not find that to 
be comical which I do, but rather that which I conceive to 
be tragical ; but this too proves that I am right to a certain 
extent. And that for which, if so happens, I become either 
a tragic or comic victim is plain enough, viz., my desire to 
reflect about all I do, and not imagine I am reflecting about 
life by dismissing its every important circumstance with an 
"I don't care, either way." 

Man has both a soul and a body. About this the wisest 
and best of the race are agreed. Now, in case one assumes 
the essence of love to lie in the relation between man and 
woman, the comic aspect will show again in the face-about 
which is seen when the highest spiritual values express 
themselves in the most sensual terms. I am now referring 
to all those extraordinary and mystic signals of love — in 
short, to all the free-masonry which forms a continuation 
of the above-mentioned inexplicable something. The con- 
tradiction in which love here involves a person lies in the 
fact that the symbolic signs mean nothing at all or — which 
amounts to the same — ^that no one is able to explain what 
they do signify. Two loving souls vow that they will love 
each the other in all eternity ; thereupon they embrace, and 
with a kiss they seal this eternal pact. Now I ask any 
thinking person whether he would have hit upon that ! And 
thus there is constant shifting from the one to the other 
extreme in love. The most spiritual is expressed by its very 
opposite, and the sensual is to signify the most spiritual. — 
Let me assume I am in love. In that case I would conceive 
it to be of the utmost importance to me that the one I love 
belonged to me for all time. This I comprehend ; for I am 
now, really, speaking only of Greek eroticism which has to 
do with loving beautiful souls. Now when the person I love 
had vowed to return my love I would believe her or, in as 
far as there remained any doubt in me, try to combat my 
doubt. But what happens actually? For if I were in love 
I would, probably, behave like all the others, that is, seek 
to obtain still some other assurance than merely to believe 

Selectio-ns from the Writings of Kierkegaard 67 

her I love ; which, though, is plainly the only assurance to 
be had. 

When Cockatoo" all at once begins to plume himself like 
a duck which is gorged with food, and then emits the word 
"Marian," everybody will laugh, and so will I. I suppose the 
spectator finds it comical that Cockatoo, who doesn't love 
Marian at all, should be on such intimate terms with her. 
But suppose, now, that Cockatoo does love Marian. Would 
that be comical still? To me it would; and the comical 
would seem to me to lie in love's having become capable of 
being expressed in such fashion. Whether now this has 
been the custom since the beginning of the world makes 
no difference whatsoever, for the comical has the prescrip- 
tive right from all eternity to be present in contradictions — 
and here is a contradiction. There is really nothing com- 
ical in the antics of a manikin since we see some one pulling 
the strings. But to be a manikin at the beck of something 
inexplicable is indeed comical, for the contradiction lies 
in our not seeing any sensible reason why one should have 
to twitch now this leg and now that. Hence, if I cannot 
explain what I am doing, I do not care to do it; and if I 
cannot understand the power into whose sphere I am ven- 
turing, I do not care to surrender myself to that power. And 
if love is so mysterious a law which binds together the ex- 
tremest contradictions, then who will guarantee that I 
might not, one day, become altogether confused ? Still, that 
does not concern me so much. 

Again, I have heard that some lovers consider the be- 
havior of other lovers ridiculous. I cannot conceive how 
this ridicule is justified, for if this law of love be a natural 
law, then all lovers are subject to it; but if it be the law 
of their own choice, then those laughing lovers ought to be 
able to explain all about love ; which, however, they are un- 
able to do. But in this respect I understand this matter 
better as it seems a convention for one lover to laugh at the 
other because he always finds the other lover ridiculous, 

i^A character in the Danish playwright Overskou's vaudeville of 
'Capriciosa" (Comedies III, 184). 

68 University of Texas Bulletin 

but not himself. If it be ridiculous to kiss an ugly girl, 
it is also ridiculous to kiss a pretty one ; and the notion that 
doing this in some particular way should entitle one to cast 
ridicule on another who does it differently, is but presump- 
tuousness and a conspiracy which does not, for all that, ex- 
empt such a snob from laying himself open to the ridicule 
which invariably results from the fact that no one is able to 
explain what this act of kissing signifies, whereas it is to 
signify all — to signify, indeed, that the lovers desire to be- 
long to each other in all eternity; aye, what is still more 
amusing, to render them certain that they will. Now, if a 
man should suddenly lay his head on one side, or shake it, 
or kick out with his leg and, upon my asking him why he 
did this, should answer "To be sure I don't know, myself, 
I just happened to do so, next time I may do something dif- 
ferent, for I did it unconsciously" — ah, then I would under- 
stand him quite well. But if he said, as the lovers say about 
their antics, that all bliss lay therein, how could I help 
finding it ridiculous — just as I thought that other man's 
motions ridiculous, to be sure in a different sense, until he 
restrained my laughter by declaring that they did not sig- 
nify anything. For by doing so he removed the contradic- 
tion which is the basic cause of the comical. It is not at all 
comical that the insignificant is declared to signify nothing, 
but it is very much so if it be asserted to signify all. 

As regards involuntary actions, the contradiction arises 
at the very outset because involuntary actions are not looked 
for in a free rational being. Thus if one supposed that the 
Pope had a coughing spell the very moment he was to place 
the crown on Napoleon's head; or that bride and groom 
in the most solemn moment of the wedding ceremony should 
fall to sneezing — these would be examples of the comical. 
That is, the more a given action accentuates the free ra- 
tional being, the more comical are involuntary actions. Thie 
holds true also in respect of the erotic gesticulations, where 
the comical element appears a second time, owing to the 
circumstance that the lovers attempt to explain away the 
contradiction by attributing to their gesticulations an abso- 
lute value. As is well known, children have a keen sense 

Selections from the Writings of Kierkegaard 69 

of the ridiculous — witness children's testimony which can 
always be relied on in this regard. Now as a rule children 
will laugh at lovers, and if one makes them tell what they 
have seen, surely no one can help laughing. This is, per- 
haps, due to the fact that children omit the point. Very 
strange! When the Jew omitted the point no one cared to 
laugh. Here, on the contrarj'', every one laughs because 
the point is omitted ; since, however, no one can explain what 
the point is — why, then there is no point at all. 

So the lovers explain nothing; and those who praise love 
explain nothing but are merely intent on — as one is bidden 
in the Royal Laws of Denmark — on saying anent it all 
which may be pleasant and of good report. But a man 
who thinks, desires to have his logical categories in good 
order ; and he who thinks about love wishes to be sure about 
his categories also in this matter. The fact is, though, that 
people do not think about love, and a "pastoral science" is 
still lacking ; for even if a poet in a pastoral poem makes an 
attempt to show how love is born, everji;hing is smuggled 
in again by help of another person who teaches the lovers 
how to love ! 

As we saw, the comical element in love arose from 
the face-about whereby the highest quality of one 
sphere does not find expression in that sphere but in the 
exactly opposite quality of another sphere. It is comical 
that the soaring flight of love — the desire to belong to each 
other for all time — lands ever, like Saft,^° in the pantry; 
but still more comical is it that this conclusion is said to 
constitute love's highest expression. 

Wherever there is a contradiction, there the comical ele- 
ment is present also. I am ever following that track. If 
it be disconcerting to you, dear fellow banqueters, to follow 
me in what I shall have to say now, then follow me with 
averted countenances. I myself am speaking as if with 
veiled eyes ; for as I see only the mystery in these matters, 
why, I cannot see, or I see nothing. 

What is a consequence? If it cannot, in some way or 

= *The glutton in Oehlenschloeger's vaudeville of "Sovedrikken. 

70 University of Texas Bulletin 

other, be brought under the same head as its antecedent — 
why, then it would be ridiculous if it posed as a consequence. 
To illustrate: if a man who wanted to take a bath jumped 
into the tank and, coming to the surface again somewhat 
confused, groped for the rope to hold on to, but caught the 
douche-line by mistake, and a shower now descended on 
him with sufficient motivation and for excellent good rea- 
son — why, then the consequence would be entirely in order. 
The ridiculous here consisted in his seizing the wrong rope ; 
but there is nothing ridiculous in the shower descending 
when one pulls the proper rope. Rather, it would be ridic- 
ulous if it did not come; as for example, just to show the 
correctness of my contention about contradictions, if a man 
nerved himself with bold resolution in order to withstand 
the shock and, in the enthusiasm of his decision, with a 
stout heart pulled the line — and the shower did not come. 

Let us see now how it is with regard to love. The lovers 
wish to belong to each other for all time, and this they 
express, curiously, by embracing each other with all the 
intensity of the moment; and all the bliss of love is said 
to reside therein. But all desire is egotistic. Now, to 
be sure, the lover's desire is not egotistic in respect of 
the one he loves, but the desire of both in conjunction is 
absolutely egotistic in so far as they in their union and love 
represent a new ego. And yet they are deceived ; for in 
the same moment the race triumphs over the individual, the 
race is victorious, and the individuals are debased to do its 

Now this I find more ridiculous than what Aristophanes 
thought so ridiculous. The ridiculous aspect of his theory 
of bi-section lies in the inherent contradiction (which the 
ancient author does not sufficiently emphasize, however). 
In considering a person one naturally supposes him to be 
an entity, and so one does believe till it becomes apparent 
that, under the obsession of love, he is but a half which runs 
about looking for its complement. There is nothing ridic- 
ulous in half an apple. The comical would appear if a 
whole apple turned out to be only half an apple. In the 
first case there exists no contradiction, but certainly in the 

Selections from the Writings of Kierkegaard 71 

latter. If one actually based one's reasoning on the figure 
of speech that woman is but half a person she would not be 
ridiculous at all in her love. Man, however, who has been 
enjoying civic rights as a whole person, will certainly 
appear ridiculous when he takes to running about (and 
looking for his other half) ;-^ for he betrays thereby that 
he is but half a person. In fact, the more one thinks about 
the matter the more ridiculous it seems ; because if man 
really be a whole, why, then he will not become a whole in 
love, but he and woman would make up one and a half. No 
wonder, then, that the gods laugh, and particularly at man. 

But let me return to my consequence. When the lovers 
have found each other, one should certainly believe that they 
formed a whole, and in this should lie the proof of their as- 
sertion that they wished to live for each other for all time. 
But lo! instead of living for each other they begin to live 
for the race, and this they do not even suspect. 

What is a consequence? If, as I observed, one cannot 
detect in it the cause out of which it proceeded, the conse- 
quence is merely ridiculous, and he becomes a laughing stock 
to whom this happens. Now, the fact that the separated 
halves have found each other ought to be a complete sat- 
isfaction and rest for them; and yet the consequence is a 
new existence. That having found each other should mean 
a new existence for the lovers, is comprehensible enough; 
but not, that a new existence for a third being should take 
its inception from this fact. And yet the resulting conse- 
quence is greater than that of which it is the consequence, 
whereas such an end as the lovers' finding each other ought 
to be infallible evidence of no other, subsequent, consequence 
being thinkable. 

Does the satisfaction of any other desire show an an- 
alogy to this consequence? Quite on the contrary, the sat- 
isfaction of desire is in everj'^ other case evinced by a period 
of rest; and even if a tristitia-^ does supervene — indicating, 
by the way, that every satisfaction of an appetite is com- 
ical — this tristitia is a straightfor^vard consequence, though 

20Supplied by the translator to complete the sense. 
^^Dejection. Cf. the maxim: omne animal post coitum triste. 

72 University of Texas Bulletin 

no tristitia so eloquently attests a preceding comical element 
as does that following love. It is quite another matter with 
an enormous consequence such as w^e are dealing with, 
a consequence of which no one knows whence it comes, nor 
whether it will come ; whereas, if it does come, it comes as a 

Who is able to grasp this? And yet that which for the 
initiates of love constitutes the greatest pleasure is also the 
most important thing for them — so important that they 
even adopt new names, derived from the consequence there- 
of which thus, curiously enough, assumes retroactive force. 
The lover is now called father, his sweetheart, mother ; and 
these names seem to them the most beautiful. And yet 
there is a being to whom these names are even more beau- 
tiful; for what is as beautiful as filial piety? To me it 
seems the most beautiful of all sentiments ; and fortunately 
I can appreciate the thought underlying it. We are taught 
that it is seeming in a son to love his father. This I com- 
prehend, I cannot even suspect that there is any contradic- 
tion possible here, and I acknowledge infinite satisfaction 
in being held by the loving bonds of filial piety. I believe 
it is the greatest debt of all to owe another being one's life. 
I believe that this debt cannot ever be wiped out, or even 
fathomed by any calculation, and for this reason I agree 
with Cicero when he asserts that the son is always in the 
wrong as against his father; and it is precisely filial piety 
which teaches me to believe this, teaches me not even to 
penetrate the hidden, but rather to remain hidden in the 
father. Quite true, I am glad to be another person's great- 
est debtor; but as to the opposite, viz., before deciding to 
make another person my greatest debtor, I want to arrive 
at greater clarity. For to my conception there is a world 
of difference between being some person's debtor, and 
making some person one's debtor to such an extent that 
he will never be able to clear himself. 

What filial piety forbids the son to consider, love bids the 
father to consider. And here contradiction sets in again. 
If the son has an immortal soul like his father, what does 
it mean, then, to be a father ? For must I not smile at my- 

Selections from the Writings of Kierkegaard 73 

self when thinking of myself as a father — whereas the son 
is most deeply moved when he reflects on the relation he 
bears to his father? Very well do I understand Plato when 
he says that an animal will give birth to an animal of the 
same species, a plant, to a plant of the same species, and 
thus also man to man.-- But this explains nothing, does 
not satisfy one's thought, and arouses but a dim feeling; 
for an immortal soul cannot be bom. Whenever, then, a 
father considers his son in the light of his son's immortal- 
ity — which is, indeed, the essential consideration-- — he 
will probably smile at himself, for he cannot, by any means, 
grasp in their entirety all the beautiful and noble thoughts 
which his son with filial piety entertains about him. If, 
on the other hand, he considers his son from the point of 
view of his animal nature he must smile again, because the 
conception of fatherhood is too exalted an expression for it. 

Finally, if it were thinkable that a father influenced his 
son in such fashion that his own nature was a condition 
from which the son's nature could not free itself, then the 
contradiction would arise in another direction; for in this 
case nothing more terrible is thinkable than being a father. 
There is no comparison between killing a person and giv- 
ing him life — the former decides his fate only in time, the 
other for all eternity. So there is a contradiction again, and 
one both to laugh and to weep about. Is paternity then an 
illusion — even if not in the same sense as is implied in Mag- 
delone's speech to Jeronymus-* — or is it the most terrible 
thought imaginable? Is it the greatest benefit conferred 
on one, or is it the sweetest gratification of one's desire — 
is it something which just happens, or is it the greatest 
task of life? 

Look you, for this reason have I forsworn all love, for 
my thought is to me the most essential consideration. So 
even if love be the most exquisite joy, I renounce it, without 
wishing either to offend or to envy any one; and even if 
love be the condition for conferring the greatest benefit 

■-2This statement is to be found, rather, in Aristotle's Ethics II, 6. 

-^There is a pun here in the original. 

-*In Holberg's comedy of "Erasmus Montanus," III, 6. 

74 University of Texas Bulletin 

imaginable I deny myself the opportunity therefor — but my 
thought I have not prostituted. By no means do I lack an 
eye for what is beautiful, by no means does my heart re- 
main unmoved when I read the songs of the poets, by no 
means is my soul without sadness when it yields to the 
beautiful conception of love; but I do not wish to become 
unfaithful to my thought. And of what avail were it to be, 
for there is no happiness possible for me except my thought 
have free sway. If it had not, I would in desperation yearn 
for my thought, which I may not desert to cleave to a wife, 
for it is my immortal part and, hence, of more importance 
than a wife. Well do I comprehend that if any thing is 
sacred it is love ; that if faithlessness in any relation is base, 
it is doubly so in love ; that if any deceit is detestable, it is 
tenfold more detestable in love. But my soul is innocent 
of blame. I have never looked at any woman to desire 
her, neither have I fluttered about aimlessly before blindly 
plunging, or lapsing, into the most decisive of all relations. 
If I knew what the lovable were I would know with cer- 
tainty whether I had offended by tempting any one; but 
since I do not know, I am certain only of never having had 
the conscious desire to do so. 

Supposing I should yield to love- and be made to laugh ; 
or supposing I should be cast down by terror, since I can- 
not find the narrow path which lovers travel as easily as if 
it were the broad highway, undisturbed by any doubts, 
which they surely have bestowed thought on (seeing our 
times have, indeed, reflected about all" and consequently 
will comprehend me when I assert that to act unreflectingly 
is nonsense, as one ought to have gone through all 
possible reflections before acting) — supposing, I say, I 
should yield to love! Would I not insult past redress riiy 
beloved one if I laughed; or irrevocably plunge her into 
despair if I were overwhelmed by terror? For I under- 
stand well enough that a woman cannot be expected to 
have thought as profoundly about these matters; and a 

25Cf. note p. 60. 

Selections from the Writings of Kierkegaard 75 

woman who found love comical (as but gods and men can, 
for which reason woman is a temptation luring them to 
become ridiculous) would both betray a suspicious amount 
of previous experience and understand me least. But a 
woman who comprehended the terror of love would have 
lost her loveliness and still fail to understand me — she would 
be annihilated; which is in nowise my case, so long as my 
thought saves me. 

Is there no one ready to laugh? When I began by want- 
ing to speak about the comical element in love you perhaps 
expected to be made to laugh, for it is easy to make you 
laugh, and I myself am a friend of laughter; and still you 
did not laugh, I believe. The effect of my speech was a 
different one, and yet precisely this proves that I have 
spoken about the comical. If there be no one who laughs at 
my speech — well, then laugh a little at me, dear fellow- 
banqueters, and I shall not w^onder ; for I do not understand 
what I have occasionally heard you say about love. Very 
probably, though, you are among the initiated as I am not. 

Thereupon the Young Person seated himself. He had 
become more beautiful, almost, than before the meal. Now 
he sat quietly, looking down before him, unconcerned about 
the others. John the Seducer desired at once to urge some 
objections against the Young Person's speech but was in- 
terrupted by Constantin who warned against discussions 
and ruled that on this occasion only speeches were in order. 
John said if that was the case, he would stipulate that he 
should be allowed to be the last speaker. This again gave 
rise to a discussion as to the order in which they were to 
speak, which Constantin closed by offering to speak forth- 
with, against their recognizing his authority to appoint the 
speakers in their turn. 

(Constantin's Speech) 

Constantin spoke as follows: 

There is a time to keep silence, and a time to speak,^^ 

2fiEccles. 3, 7. 

76 University of Texas Bulletin 

and now it seems to be the time to speak briefly, for our 
young friend has spoken much and very strangely. His 
vis comica^'^ has made us struggle ancipiti proelio^^ because 
his speech was full of doubts, as he himself is, sitting there 
now — a perplexed man who knows not whether to laugh, 
or weep, or fall in love. In fact, had I had foreknowledge 
of his speech, such as he demands one should have of love, I 
should have forbidden him to speak; but now it is too late. 
I shall bid you then, dear bellow-banqueters, "gladsome and 
merry to be," and even if I cannot enforce this I shall ask 
you to forget each speech so soon as it is made and to wash 
it down with a single draught. 

And now as to woman, about whom I shall speak. I too 
have pondered about her, and I have finally discovered the 
category to which she belongs. I too have sought, but I 
have found, too, and I have made a matchless discovery 
which I shall now communicate to you. Woman is under- 
stood correctly only when placed in the category of "the 

It is man's function to be absolute, to act in an absolute 
fashion, or to give expression to the absolute. Woman's 
sphere lies in her relativity.^® Between beings so radically 
different, no true reciprocal relation can exist. Precisely 
in this incommensurability lies the joke. And with woman 
the joke was born into the world. It is to be understood, 
however, that man must know how to stick to his role of 
being absolute; for else nothing is seen — that is to say, 
something exceedingly common is seen, viz., that man and 
woman fit each other, he as a half man and she as a half 

The joke is not an aesthetic, but an abortive ethical, cate- 
gory. Its effect on thought is about the same as the im- 
pression we receive if a man were solemnly to begin making 
a speech, recite a comma or two with his pronouncement, 

^''Comical power. 

28In uncertain battle. 

29According to the development of these terms in Kierkegaard's 
previous works, the "absolute" belongs to the ethic, the "relative" 
to the aesthetic sphere. 

Selections from the Writings of Kierkegaard 77 

then say "hm!" — "dash" — and then stop. Thus with 
woman. One tries to cover her with the ethical category, 
one thinks of human nature, one opens one's eyes, one 
fastens one's glances on the most excellent maiden in ques- 
tion, an effort is made to redeem the claims of the ethical 
demand; and then one grows ill at ease and says to one's 
self: ah, this is undoubtedly a joke! The joke lies, indeed, 
in applying that category to her and measuring her by it, 
because it would be idle to expect serious results from her; 
but just that is the joke. Because if one could demand it 
of her it would not be a joke at all. A mighty poor joke 
indeed it would be, to place her under the air-pump and 
draw the air out of her — indeed it were a shame; but to 
blow her up to supernatural size and let her imagine her- 
self to have attained all the ideality which a little maiden 
of sixteen imagines she has, that is the beginning of the 
game and, indeed, the beginning of a highly entertaining 
performance. No youth has half so much imaginary ideal- 
ity as a young girl, but: "We shall soon be even" as says 
the tailor in the proverb ; for her ideality is but an illusion. 
If one fails to consider woman from this point of view she 
may cause irreparable harm; but through my conception 
of her she becomes harmless and amusing. For a man there 
is nothing more shocking than to catch himself twaddling. 
It destroys all true ideality; for one may repent of having 
been a rascal, and one may feel sorry for not having meant 
a word of what one said ; but to have talked nonsense, sheer 
nonsense, to have meant all one said and behold ! it was all 
nonsense — that is too disgusting for repentance incarnate 
to put up with. But this is not the case with woman. She 
has a prescriptive right to transfigure herself — in less than 
24 hours — in the most innocent and pardonable nonsense; 
for far is it from her ingenuous soul to wish to deceive one ! 
Indeed, she meant all she said, and now she says the precise 
opposite, but with the same amiable frankness, for now she 
is willing to stake everything on what she said last. Now 
in case a man in all seriousness surrenders to love he may 
be called fortunate indeed if he succeeds in obtaining an 
insurance — if, indeed, he is able to obtain it anywhere; 

78 University of Texas Bulletin 

for so inflammable a material as woman is most likely to 
arouse the suspicions of an insurance agent. Just consider 
for a moment what he has done in thus identifying himself 
with her! If, some fine New Year's night she goes off 
like some fireworks he will promptly follow suit; and even 
if this should not happen he will have many a close call. 
And what may he not lose ! He may lose his all ; for there 
is but one absolute antithesis to the absolute, and that is 
nonsense. Therefore, let him not seek refuge in some so- 
ciety for morally tainted individuals, for he is not morally 
tainted — far from it ; only, he has been reduced in absurdum 
and beatified in nonsense ; that is, has been made a fool of. 
This will never happen among men. If a man should 
sputter off in this fashion I would scorn him. If he should 
fool me by his cleverness I need but apply the ethical cate- 
gory to him, and the danger is trifling. If things go too 
far I shall put a bullet through his brain ; but to challenge 
a woman — what is that, if you please? Who does not see 
that it is a joke, just as when Xerxes had the sea whipped? 
When Othello murders Desdemona, granting she really had 
been guilty, he has gained nothing, for he has been duped, 
and a dupe he remains; for even by his murdering her he 
only makes a concession with regard to a consequence which 
originally made him ridiculous; whereas Elvira''*' may be 
an altogether pathetic figure when arming herself with a 
dagger to obtain revenge. The fact that Shakespeare has 
conceived Othello as a tragic figure (even disregarding the 
calamity that Desdemona is innocent) is to be explained 
and, indeed, to perfect satisfaction, by the hero being a 
colored person. For a colored person, dear fellow-banquet- 
ers, who cannot be assumed to represent spiritual qualities 
— a colored person, I say, who therefore becomes green in 
his face when his ire is aroused (which is a physiological 
fact), a colored man may, indeed, become tragic if he is 
deceived by a woman; just as a woman has all the pathos 
of tragedy on her side when she is betrayed by a man. A 
man who flies into a rage may perhaps become tragic ; but 

3<'Heroine of Mozart's "Don Juan." 

Selections from the Writings of Kierkegaard 79 

a man of whom one may expect a developed mentality, he 
will either not become jealous, or he will become ridiculous 
if he does ; and most of all when he comes running with a 
dagger in his hand. 

A pity that Shakespeare has not presented us with a 
comedy of this description in which the claim raised by a 
woman's infidelity is turned down by irony; for not eveiy 
one who is able to see the comical element in this situation 
is able also to develop the thought and give it dramatic em- 
bodiment. Let one but imagine Socrates surprising Xan- 
thippe in the act — for it would be un-Socratic even to think 
of Socrates being particularly concerned about his wife's 
fidelity, or still worse, spying on her — imagine it, and I 
believe that the fine smile which transformed the ugliest 
man in Athens into the handsomest, would for the first 
time have turned into a roar of laughter. It is incompre- 
hensible why Aristophanes, who so frequently made Socra- 
tes the butt of his ridicule, neglected to have him run on the 
stage shouting: "WTiere is she, where is she, so that I may 
kill her, i.e., my unfaithful Xanthippe." For really it does 
not matter greatly whether or no Socrates was made a 
cuckold, and all that Xanthippe may do in this regard is 
wasted labor, like snapping one's fingers in one's pocket; 
for Socrates remains the same intellectual hero, even with a 
horn on his forehead. But if he had in fact become jealous 
and had wanted to kill Xanthippe — alas! then would Xan- 
thippe have exerted a power over him such as the entire 
Greek nation and his sentence of death could not — to make 
him ridiculous. 

A cuckold is comical, then, with respect to his wife; but 
he may be regarded as becoming tragical with respect to 
other men. In this fact we may find an explanation of the 
Spanish conception of honor. But the tragic element re- 
sides chiefly in his not being able to obtain redress, and the 
anguish of his suffering consists really in its being devoid 
of meaning — which is terrible enough. To shoot the woman, 
to challenge her, to despise her, all this would only serve 
to render the poor man still more ridiculous; for woman 
is the weaker sex. This consideration enters in everv- 

80 University of Texas Bulletin 

where and confuses all. If she performs a great deed she 
is admired more than man, because it is more than was ex- 
pected of her. If she is betrayed, all the pathos is on her 
side ; but if a man is deceived one has scant sympathy and 
little patience while he is present — and laughs at him when 
his back is turned. 

Look you, therefore is it advisable betimes to consider 
woman as a joke. The entertainment she affords is simply 
incomparable. Let one consider her a fixed quantity, and 
one's self a relative one; let one by no means contradict 
her, for that would simply be helping her; let one never 
doubt what she says but, rather, believe her every word; 
let one gallivant about her, with eyes rendered unsteady 
by unspeakable admiration and blissful intoxication, and 
with the mincing steps of a worshipper; let one languish- 
ingly fall on one's knees, then lift up one's eyes up to her 
languishingly and heave a breath again; let one do all she 
bids one, like an obedient slave. And now comes the cream 
of the joke. We need no proof that woman can speak, i.e., 
use words. Unfortunately, however, she does not possess 
sufficient reflection for making sure against her in the long 
run — which is, at most, eight days — contradicting herself; 
unless indeed man, by contradicting her, exerts a regulative 
influence. So the consequence is that within a short time 
confusion will reign supreme. If one had not done what 
she told one to, the confusion would pass unnoticed ; for she 
forgets again as quickly as she talks. But since her ad- 
mirer has done all, and has been at her beck and call in every 
instance, the confusion is only too glaring. 

The more gifted the woman, the more amusing the situa- 
tion. For the more gifted she is, the more imagination 
she will possess. Now, the more imagination she possesses, 
the greater airs she will give herself and the greater the 
confusion which is bound to become evident in the next in- 
stant. In life, such entertainment is rarely had, because 
this blind obedience to a woman's whims occurs but seldom. 
And if it does, in some languishing swain, most likely he is 
not qualified to see the fun. The fact is, the ideality a little 
maiden assumes in moments when her imagination is at 

Selections from the Writings of Kierkegaard 81 

work is encountered nowhere else, whether in gods or man ; 
but it is all the more entertaining to believe her and to add 
fuel to the fire. 

As I remarked, the fun is simply incomparable — indeed, 
I know it for a fact, because I have at times not been able 
to sleep at night with the mere thought of what new confu- 
sions I should live to see, through the agency of my sweet- 
heart and my humble zeal to please her. Indeed, no one 
who gambles in a lottery- will meet with more remarkable 
combinations than he who has a passion for this game. 
For this is sure, that every woman without exception pos- 
sesses the same qualifications for being resolved and trans- 
figured in nonsense with a gracefulness, a nonchalance, an 
assurance such as befits the weaker sex. 

Being a right-minded lover one naturally discovers every 
possible charm in one's beloved. Now, when discovering 
genius in the above sense, one ought not to let it remain a 
mere possibility- but ought, rather, to develop it into vir- 
tuosity. I do not need to be more specific, and more cannot 
be said in a general way, yet every one will understand me. 
Just as one may find entertainment in balancing a cane on 
one's nose, in swinging a tumbler in a circle w^ithout spill- 
ing a drop, in dancing between eggs, and in other games as 
amusing and profitable, likewise, and not otherwise, in liv- 
ing with his beloved the lover will have a source of incom- 
parable entertainment and food for most interesting study. 
In matters pertaining to love let one have absolute belief, 
not only in her protestations of fidelity — one soon tires of 
that game — but in all those explosions of inviolable Roman- 
ticism by which she would probably perish if one did not 
contrive a safety-valve through which the sighs and the 
smoke, and "the aria of Romanticism^^" may escape and 
make her worshipper happy. Let one compare her admir- 
ingly to Juliet, the difference being only that no person ever 
as much as thought of touching a hair on her Romeo's head. 
With regard to intellectual matters, let one hold her capable 
of all and, if one has been lucky enough to find the right 

siQuotation from Wessel's famous comedy of "Love without Stock- 
ings," III, 3. 

82 University of Texas Bulletin 

woman, in a trice one will have a cantankerous authoress, 
whilst wonderingly shading one's eyes with one's hand and 
duly admiring what the little black hen may yield besides.^^ 
It is altogether incomprehensible why Socrates did not 
choose this course of action instead of bickering with Xan- 
thippe — oh, well! to be sure he wished to acquire practice, 
like the riding master who, even though he has the best 
trained horse, yet knows how to tease him in such fashion 
that there is good reason for breaking him in again. ^^ 

Let me be a little more concrete, in order to illustrate a 
particular and highly interesting phenomenon. A great 
deal has been said about feminine fidelity, but rarely with 
any discretion.^* From a purely aesthetic point of view this 
fidelity is to be regarded as a piece of poetic fiction which 
steps on the stage to find her lover — a fiction which sits by 
the spinning wheel and waits for her lover to come; but 
when she has found him, or he has come, why, then aesthet- 
ics is at a loss. Her infidelity, on the other hand, as con- 
trasted with her previous fidelity, is to be judged chiefly 
with regard to its ethical import, when jealousy will appear 
as a tragic passion. There are three possibilities, so the 
case is favorable for woman; for there are two cases of 
fidelity, as against one of infidelity. Inconceivably great is 
her fidelity when she is not altogether sure of her cavalier ; 
and ever so inconceivably great is it when he repels her 
fidelity. The third case would be her infidelity. Now 
granted one has sufl^icient intellect and objectivity to make 
reflections, one will find sufficient justification, in what has 
been said, for my category of "the joke." Our young 
friend whose beginning in a manner deceived me seemed to 
be on the point of entering into this matter, but backed out 
again, dismayed at the difficulty. And yet the explanation 
is not difficult, providing one really sets about it seriously, 

^'^Viz. besides the eggs she duly furnishes; Holberg, "The Busy- 
body," II, 1. 

^''This figure is said by Diogenes Laertios II, 37 to have been used 
by Socrates himself about his relation to Xanthippe. 

•<*The following sentences are not as clear in meaning as is other- 
wise the case in Kierkegaard. 

Selections from the Writings of Kierkegaard 83 

to make unrequited lov^e and death correspond to one an- 
other, and providing one is serious enough to stick to his 
thought — and so much seriousness one ought to have — for 
the sake of the joke. 

Of course this phrase of unrequited love being death orig- 
inated either with a woman or a womanish male. Its origin 
is easily made out, seeing that it is one of those categorical 
outbursts which, spoken with great bravado, on the spur of 
the moment, may count on a great and immediate applause ; 
for although this business is said to be a matter of life and 
death, yet the phrase is meant for immediate consumption — 
like cream-puffs. Although referring to daily experience it 
is by no means binding on him who is to die, but only obliges 
the listener to rush post-haste to the assistance of the dying 
lover. If a man should take to using such phrases it would 
not be amusing at all. for he would be too despicable to 
laugh at. Woman, however, possesses genius, is lovable in 
the measure she possesses it, and is amusing at all times. 
Well, then, the languishing lady dies of love — why certainly, 
for did she not say so herself? In this matter she is pa- 
thetic, for woman has enough courage to say what no man 
would have the courage to do — so then she dies ! In saying 
so I have measured her by ethical standards. Do ye like- 
wise, dear fellow-banqueters, and understand your Aristotle 
aright, now ! He obser\^es very correctly that woman can- 
not be used in tragedy.^' And very certainly, her proper 
sphere is the pathetic and serious divertissement, the half- 
hour face, not the five-act drama. So then she dies. But 
should she for that reason not be able to love again? Why 
not? — that is, if it be possible to restore her to life. Now, 
having been restored to life, she is of course a new being — 
another person, that is, and begins afresh and falls in love 
for the first time : nothing remarkable in that I Ah, death, 
great is thy power ; not the most violent emetic and not the 
most powerful laxative could ever have the same purging 
effect ! 

The resulting confusion is capital, if one but is attentive 
and does not forget. A dead man is one of the most amus- 

'Poeties, chap. 15. 

m '* 

University of Texas Bulletin 

ing characters to be met with in life. Strange that more 
use is not made of him on the stage, for in life he is seen, 
now and then. When you come to think of it, even one who 
has only been seemingly dead is a comical figure; but one 
who was really dead certainly contributes to our entertain- 
ment all one can reasonably expect of a man. All depends 
on whether one is attentive. I myself had my attention 
called to it, one day, as I was walking with one of my ac- 
quaintances. A couple passed us. I judged from the ex- 
pression on his face that he knew them and asked whether 
that was the case. "Why, yes," he answered, "I know them 
very well, and especially the lady, for she is my departed 
one." — "What departed one ?" I asked. — "Why, my departed 
first love," he answered. "Indeed, this is a strange affair. 
She said : I shall die. And that very same moment she de- 
parted, naturally enough, by death — else one might have 
insured her beforehand in the widow's insurance. Too late ! 
Dead she was and dead she remained; and now I wander 
about, as says the poet, vainly seeking the grave of my lady- 
love that I may shed my tears thereon." Thus this broken- 
hearted man who remained alone in the world, though it 
consoled him to find her pretty far along with some other 

It is a good thing for the girls, thought I, that they don't 
have to be buried, every time they die; for if parents have 
hitherto considered a boy-child to be the more expensive, 
the girls might become even more so ! 

A simple case of infidelity is not as amusing, by far. I 
mean, if a girl should fall in love with some one else and 
should say to her lover: "I cannot help it, save me from 
myself!" But to die from sorrow because she cannot en- 
dure being separated from her lover by his journey to the 
West Indies, to have put up with his departure, however, — 
and then, at his return, be not only not dead, but attached 
to some one else for all time — that certainly is a strange 
fate for a lover to undergo. No wonder, then, that the 
heart-broken man at times consoled himself with the burthen 
of an old song which runs : "Hurrah for you and me, I say, 
we never shall forget that day !" 

Selections from the Writings of Kierkegaard 85 

Now forgive me, dear fellow-banqueters, if I have spoken 
at too great length ; and empty a glass to love and to woman. 
Beautiful she is and lovely, if she be considered sesthetically. 
That is undeniable. But, as has often been said, and as I 
shall say also : one ought not to remain standing here, but 
should go on.''' Consider her, then, ethically and you will 
hardly have begun to do so before the humor of it will be- 
come apparent. Even Plato and Aristotle assume that 
woman is an imperfect form, an irrational quantity, that is, 
one which might some time, in a better world, be trans- 
formed into a man. In this life one must take her as she is. 
And what this is becomes apparent very soon ; for she will 
not be content with the aesthetic sphere, but goes on, she 
wants to become emancipated, and she has the courage to 
say so. Let her wish be fulfilled and the amusement will be 
simply incomparable. 

When Constantin had finished speaking he forthwith ruled 
Victor Eremita to begin. He spoke as follows : 

(Victor Eremita's Speech) 

As will be remembered, Plato offers thanks to the gods 
for four things. In the fourth place he is grateful for hav- 
ing been permitted to be a contemporary of Socrates. For 
the three other boons mentioned by him,-'" an earlier Greek 
philosopher-- had already thanked the gods, and so I con- 
clude that they are worthy our gratitude. But alas ! — even 
if I wanted to express my gratitude like these Greeks I 
would not be able to do so for what was denied me. Let me 
then collect my soul in gratitude for the one good which was 
conferred on me also — that I was made a man and not a 

36Cf. note p. 60. 

'^'They are, that he had been created a man and not an animal, a 
man and not a woman, a Greek and not a Barbarian (Lactantius, 
Instit. Ill, 19, 17). 

s^Thales of Miletos (Diogenes Laertios I, 33). 

86 UniDersity of Texas Bulletin 

To be a woman is something so curious, so heterogeneous 
and composite that no predicate will fully express these 
qualities; and if I should use many predicates they would 
contradict one another in such fashion that only a woman 
would be able to tolerate the result and, what is worse, feel 
happy about it. The fact that she really signifies less than 
man — that is not her misfortune, and still less so if she got 
to know it, for it might be borne with fortitude. No, her 
misfortune consists in her life's having become devoid of 
fixed meaning through a romantic conception of things, by 
virtue of which, now she signifies all, and now, nothing at 
all ; without ever finding out what she really does signify — 
and even that is not her misfortune but, rather, the fact 
that, being a woman, she never will be able to find out. As 
for myself, if I were a woman, I should prefer to be one in 
the Orient and as a slave; for to be a slave, neither more 
nor less, is at any rate something, in comparison with being, 
now heyday, now nothing. 

Even if a woman's life did not contain such contrasts, the 
distinction she enjoys, and which is rightly assumed to be 
hers as a woman — a distinction she does not share with 
man — would by itself point to the meaninglessness of her 
life. The distinction I refer to is that of gallantry. To be 
gallant to woman is becoming in men. Now gallantry con- 
sists very simply in conceiving in fantastic categories 
that person to whom one is gallant. To be gallant to a 
man is, therefore, an insult, for he begs to be excused from 
the application of fantastic categories to him. For the 
fair sex, however, gallantry signifies a tribute, a distinction, 
which is essentially its privilege. Ah me, if only a single 
cavalier were gallant to them the case would not be so 
serious. But far from it! At bottom every man is gal- 
lant, he is unconsciously so. This signifies, therefore, that 
it is life itself which has bestowed this perquisite on the 
fair sex. Woman on her part unconsciously accepts it. 
Here we have the same trouble again; for if only a single 
woman did so, another explanation would be necessary. 
This is life's characteristic irony. 

Now if gallantry contained the truth it ought to be re- 

Selections from the Writings of Kierkegaard 87 

ciprocal, i.e., gallantry would be the accepted quotation for 
the stated difference between beauty on the one hand, and 
power, astuteness, and strength, on the other. But this is 
not the case, gallantry is essentially woman's due; and the 
fact that she unconsciously accepts it may be explained 
through the solicitude of nature for the weak and those 
treated in a stepmotherly fashion by her, who feel more than 
recompensed by an illusion. But precisely this illusion is 
her misfortune. It is not seldom the case that nature comes 
to the assistance of an afflicted creature by consoling him 
with the notion that he is the most beautiful. If that is 
so, why, then we may say that nature made good the de- 
ficiency since now the creature is endowed with even more 
than could be reasonably demanded. But to be beautiful 
only in one's imagination, and not to be overcome, indeed, 
by sadness, but to be fooled into an illusion — why, that is 
still worse mockery. Now, as to being afflicted, woman 
certainly is far from having been treated in a stepmotherly 
fashion by nature ; still she is so in another sense inasmuch 
as she never can free herself from the illusion with which 
life has consoled her. 

Gathering together one's impressions of a woman's ex- 
istence, in order to point out its essential features, one is> 
struck by the fact that every woman's life gives one an en- 
tirely phantastic impression. In a far more decisive sense 
than man she may be said to have turning points in her 
career ; for her turning points turn everything upside down. 
In one of Tieck's-'* Romantic dramas there occurs a person 
who, having once been king of Mesopotamia, now is a green- 
grocer in Copenhagen. Exactly as fantastic is every fem- 
inine existence. If the girl's name is Juliana, her life is as 
follows: erstwhile empress in the wide domains of love, 
and titulary queen of all the exaggerations of tomfoolery; 
now, Mrs. Peterson, corner Bath Street. 

When a child, a girl is less highly esteemed than a boy. 
When a little older, one does not know exactly what to make 
of her. At last she enters that decisive period in which she 

39German poet of the Romantic School (1773-1853). 

88 University of Texas Bulletin 

holds absolute sway. Worshipfully man approaches her as 
a suitor. Worshipfully, for so does every suitor, it is not 
the scheme of a crafty deceiver. Even the executioner, 
when laying down his fasces to go a-wooing, even he bends 
his knee, although he is willing to offer himself up, within 
a short time, to domestic executions which he finds so nat- 
ural that he is far from seeking any excuse for them in the 
fact that public executions have grown so few. The cul- 
tured person behaves in the very same manner. He kneels, 
he worships, he conceives his lady-love in the most fan- 
tastic categories ; and then he very quickly forgets his kneel- 
ing position — in fact, he knew full well the while he knelt 
that it was fantastic to do so. 

If I were a woman I would prefer to be sold by my father 
to the highest bidder, as is the custom in the Orient; for 
there is at least some sense in such a deal. What misfor- 
tune to have been born a woman ! Yet her misfortune really 
consists in her not being able to comprehend it, being a 
woman. If she does complain, she complains rather about 
her Oriental, than her Occidental, status. But if I were a 
woman I would first of all refuse to be wooed, and resign 
myself to belong to the weaker sex, if such is the case, and 
be careful — which is most important if one is proud — of not 
going beyond the truth. However, that is of but little con- 
cern to her. Juliana is in the seventh heaven, and Mrs. 
Peterson submits to her fate. 

Let me, then, thank the gods that I was born a man and 
not a woman. And still, how much do I forego! For is 
not all poetry, from the drinking song to the tragedy, a 
deification of woman? All the worse for her and for him 
who admires her ; for if he does not look out he will, all of 
a sudden, have to pull a long face. The beautiful, the ex- 
cellent, all of man's achievement, owes its origin to woman, 
for she inspires him. Woman is, indeed, the inspiring ele- 
ment in life. How many a love-lorn shepherd has played 
on this theme, and how many a shepherdess has listened to 
it ! Verily, my soul is without envy and feels only gratitude 
to the gods ; for I would rather be a man, though in humble 
station, but really so, than be a woman and an indeter- 

Selections from the Writings of Kierkegaard 89 

minate quantity, rendered happy by a delusion — I would 
rather be a concrete thing, with a small but definite mean- 
ing, than an abstraction which is to mean all. 

As I have said, it is through woman that ideality is born 
into the world and — what were man without her! There 
is many a man who has become a genius through a woman, 
many a one a hero, many a one a poet, many a one even a 
saint ; but he did not become a genius through the woman he 
married, for through her he only became a privy councillor ; 
he did not become a hero through the woman he married, 
for through her he only became a general; he did not be- 
come a poet through the woman he married, for through 
her he only became a father; he did not become a saint 
through the woman he married, for he did not marry, and 
would have married but one — the one whom he did not 
marry; just as the others became a genius, became a hero, 
became a poet through the help of the woman they did not 
marry. If woman's ideality were in itself inspiring, why, 
then the inspiring woman would be the one to whom a man 
is united for life. But life tells a different story. It is 
only by a negative relation to her that man is rendered 
productive in his ideal endeavors. In this sense she is in- 
spiring; but to say that she is inspiring, without qualifying 
one's statement, is to be guilty of a paralogism*^ which one 
must be a woman to overlook. Or has any one ever heard 
of any man having become a poet through his wife? So 
long as man does not possess her she inspires him. It is 
this truth which gives rise to the illusions entertained in 
poetry and by women. The fact that he does not possess 
her signifies, either, that he is still fighting for her — thus 
has woman inspired many a one and rendered him a knight ; 
but has any one ever heard of any man having been ren- 
dered a knight valiant through his wife? Or, the fact that 
he does not possess her signifies that he cannot obtain her 
by any manner of means — thus has woman inspired many a 
one and roused his ideality ; that is, if there is anything in 
him worth while. But a wife, who has things ever so much 

*"^Reasoning against the rules of logic. 

90 University of Texas Bulletin 

worth while for her husband, will hardly arouse any ideal 
strivings in him. Or, again, the fact that he does not pos- 
sess her signifies that he is pursuing an ideal. Perchance 
he loves many, but loving many is also a kind of unrequited 
love; and yet the ideality of his soul is to be seen in this 
striving and yearning, and not in the small bits of lovable- 
ness which make up the sum total of the contributions of all 
those he loves. 

The highest ideality a woman can arouse in a man con- 
sists, in fact, in the awakening within him of the conscious- 
ness of immortality. The point of this proof lies in what 
one might call the necessity of a reply. Just as one may 
remark about some play that it cannot end without this or 
that person getting in his say, likewise (says ideality) our 
existence cannot be all over with death : I demand a reply ! 
This proof is frequently furnished, in a positive fashion, 
in the public advertiser. I hold that to be entirely proper, 
for if proof is to be made in the public advertiser it must 
be made in a positive fashion. Thus: Mrs. Petersen, we 
learn, has lived a number of years, until in the night of the 
24th it pleased Providence, etc. This produces in Mr. Pe- 
tersen an attack of reminiscences from his courting days 
or, to express it quite plainly, nothing but seeing her again 
will ever console him. For this blissful meeting he prepares 
himself, in the meanwhile, by taking unto himself another 
wife ; for, to be sure, this marriage is by no means as poetic 
as the first — still it is a good imitation. This is the proof 
positive. Mr. Petersen is not satisfied with demanding a 
reply, no, he wants a meeting again in the hereafter. 

As is well known, a base metal will often show the gleam 
of precious metal. This is the brief silver-gleam. With 
respect to the base metal this is a tragic moment, for it must 
once for all resign itself to being a base metal. Not so with 
Mr. Petersen. The possession of ideality is by rights in- 
herent in every person — and now, if I laugh at Mr. Peter- 
sen it is not because he, being in reality of base metal, had 
but a single silver-gleam; but, rather, because just this sil- 
ver-gleam betrays his having become a base metal. Thus 
does the philistine look most ridiculous when, arrayed in 

Selections from the Writings of Kierkegaard 91 

ideality, he affords fitting occasion to say, with Holberg: 
"What! does that cow wear a fine dress, too?"*^ 

The case is this: whenever a woman arouses ideality in 
man, and thereby the consciousness of immortality, she al- 
ways does so negatively. He who really became a genius, 
a hero, a poet, a saint through woman, he has by that very 
fact seized on the essence of immortality. Now if the in- 
spiring element were positively present in woman, why, 
then a man's wife, and only his wife, ought to awaken in 
him the consciousness of immortality. But the reverse 
holds true. That is, if she is really to awaken ideality in 
her husband she must die. Mr. Petersen, to be sure, is not 
affected, for all that. But if woman, by her death, does 
awaken man's ideality, then is she indeed the cause of all 
the great things poetry attributes to her; but note well: 
that which she did in a positive fashion for him in no wise 
roused his ideality. In fact, her significance in this regard 
becomes the more doubtful the longer she lives, because she 
will at length really begin to wish to signify something 
positive. However, the more positive the proof the less 
it proves ; for then Mr. Petersen's longing will be for some 
past common experiences whose content was, to all intents 
and purposes, exhausted when they were had. Most posi- 
tive of all the proof becomes if the object of his longing 
concerns their marital spooning — that time when they vis- 
ited the Deer Park together! In the same way one might 
suddenly feel a longing for the old pair of slippers one used 
to be so comfortable in; but that proof is not exactly a 
proof for the immortality of the soul. On the other hand, 
the more negative the proof, the better it is ; for the nega- 
tive is higher than the positive, inasmuch as it concerns our 
immortality, and is thus the only positive value. 

Woman's main significance lies in her negative contribu- 
tion, whereas her positive contributions are as nothing in 
comparison but, on the contrary, pernicious. It is this 
truth which life keeps from her, consoling her with an illu- 
sion which surpasses all that might arise in anj" man's brain. 

*i"The Lying-in Room," II, 2. 

92 University of Texas Bulletin 

and with parental care ordering life in such fashion that 
both language and everything else confirm her in her illu- 
sion. For even if she be conceived as the very opposite of 
inspiring, and rather as the well-spring of all corruption; 
whether now we imagine that with her, sin came into the 
world, or that it is her infidelity which ruined all — our con- 
ception of her is always gallant. That is, when hearing 
such opinions one might readily assume that woman were 
really able to become infinitely more culpable than man, 
which would, indeed, amount to an immense acknowledg- 
ment of her powers. Alas, alas ! the case is entirely differ- 
ent. There is a secret reading of this text which woman 
cannot comprehend ; for, the very next moment, all life owns 
to the same conception as the state, which makes man re- 
sponsible for his wife. One condemns her as man never is 
condemned (for only a real sentence is passed on him, and 
there the matter ends), not with her receiving a milder sen- 
tence; for in that case not all of her life would be an illu- 
sion, but with the case against her being dismissed and the 
public, i.e., life, having to defray the costs. One moment, 
woman is supposed to be possessed of all possible wiles, the 
next moment, one laughs at him whom she deceived, which 
surely is a contradiction. Even such a case as that of Poti- 
phar's wife does not preclude the possibility of her having 
really been seduced. Thus has woman an enormous possi- 
bility, such as no man has — an enormous possibility; but 
her reality is in proportion. And most terrible of all is the 
magic of illusion in which she feels herself happy. 

Let Plato then thank the gods for having been born a 
contemporary of Socrates : I envy him ; let him offer thanks 
for being a Greek : I envy him ; but when he is grateful for 
having been born a man and not a woman I join him with 
all my heart. If I had been born a woman and could under- 
stand what now I can understand — it were terrible! But 
if I had been born a woman and therefore could not under- 
stand it — that were still more terrible ! 

But if the case is as I stated it, then it follows that one 
had better refrain from any positive relation with woman. 
Wherever she is concerned one has to reckon with that in- 

Selections from the Writings of Kierkegaard 93 

evitable hiatus which renders her happy as she does not 
detect the illusion, but which would be a man's undoing if 
he detected it. 

I thank the gods, then, that I was born a man and not a 
woman ; and I thank them, furthermore, that no woman 
by some life-long attachment holds me in duty bound to be 
constantly reflecting that it ought not to have been. 

Indeed, what a passing strange device is marriage ! And 
what makes it all the stranger is the suggestion that it is to 
be a step taken without thought. And yet no step is more 
decisive, for nothing in life is as inexorable and masterful 
as the marriage tie. And now so important a step as mar- 
riage ought, so we are told, to be taken without reflection ! 
Yet marriage is not something simple but something im- 
mensely complex and indeterminate. Just as the meat of 
the turtle smacks of all kinds of meat, so likewise does mar- 
riage have a taste of all manner of things; and just as the 
turtle is a sluggish animal, likewise is marriage a sluggish 
thing. Falling in love is, at least, a simple thing, but mar- 
riage — ! Is it something heathen or something Christian, 
something spiritual or something profane, or somethinsr 
civil, or something of all things? Is it an expression of an 
inexplicable love, the elective affinity of souls in delicate 
accord with one another; or is it a duty, or a partnership, 
or a mere convenience, or the custom of certain countries — 
or is it a duty, or a partnership, or a mere convenience, or 
the custom of certain countries — or is it a little of all these? 
Is one to order the music for it from the town musician or 
the organist, or is one to have a little from both? Is it the 
minister or the police sergeant who is to make the speech 
and enroll the names in the book of life — or in the town 
register? Does marriage blow a tune on a comb, or does it 
listen to the whisperings "like to those of the fairies from 
the grottoes of a summer night" ?*- 

And now every Darby imagines he performed such a 
potpourri, such incomparably complex music, in getting 
married — and imagines that he is still performing it while 

*-A quotation from Oehlenschlager's "Aladdin. 

94 University of Texas Bulletin 

living a married life! My dear fellow-banqueters, ought 
we not, in default of a wedding present and congratula- 
tions, give each of the conjugal partners a demerit for re- 
peated inattentiveness ? It is taxing enough to express a 
single idea in one's life; but to think something so com- 
plicated as marriage and, consequently, bring it under one 
head; to think something so complicated and yet to do jus- 
tice to each and every element in it, and have everything 
present at the same time — verily, he is a great man who 
can accomplish all this! And still every Benedict accom- 
plishes it — so he does, no doubt ; for does he not say that he 
does it unconsciously? But if this is to be done uncon- 
sciously it must be through some higher form of uncon- 
sciousness permeating all one's reflective powers. But not 
a word is said about this! And to ask any married man 
about it means just wasting one's time. 

He who has once committed a piece of folly will con- 
stantly be pursued by its consequences. In the case of mar- 
riage the folly consists in one's having gotten into a mess, 
and the punishment, in recognizing, when it is too late, what 
one has done. So you will find that the married man, now, 
becomes chesty, with a bit of pathos, thinking he has done 
something remarkable in having entered wedlock ; now, puts 
his tail between his legs in dejection; then again, praises 
marriage in sheer self-defense. But as to a thought-unit 
which might serve to hold together the disjecta membra*^ 
of the most heterogeneous conceptions of life contained in 
marriage — for that we shall wait in vain. 

Therefore, to be a mere Benedict is humbug, and to be a 
seducer is humbug, and to wish to experiment with woman 
for the sake of "the joke" is also humbug. In fact, the two 
last mentioned methods will be seen to involve concessions 
to woman on the part of man quite as large as those found 
in marriage. The seducer wishes to rise in his own estima- 
tion by deceiving her; but this very fact that he deceives 
and wishes to deceive — that he cares to deceive, is also a 
demonstration of his dependence on woman. And the same 

^•■'Scattered members. 

Selections from the Writings of Kierkegaard 95 

holds true of him who wishes to experiment with her. 

If I were to imagine any possible relation with woman it 
would be one so saturated with reflecton that it would, for 
that very reason, no longer be any relation with her at all. 
To be an excellent husband and yet on the sly seduce every 
girl ; to seem a seducer and yet harbor within one all the 
ardor of romanticism — there would be something to that, 
for the concession in the first instance were then annihilated 
in the second. Certain it is that man finds his true ideality 
only in such a reduplication. All merely unconscious ex- 
istence must be obliterated, and its obliteration ever cun- 
ningly guarded by some sham expression. Such a redupli- 
cation is incomprehensible to woman, for it removes from 
her the possibility of expressing man's true nature in one 
term. If it were possible for woman to exist in such a re- 
duplication, no erotic relation with her were thinkable. But, 
her nature being such as we all know it to be, any disturb- 
ance of the erotic relation is brought about by man's true 
nature which ever consists precisely in the annihilation of 
that in which she has her being. 

Am I then preaching the monastic life and rightly called 
Eremita? By no means. You may as well eliminate the 
cloister, for after all it is only a direct expression of spirit- 
uality and as such but a vain endeavor to express it in 
direct terms. It makes small difference whether you use 
gold, or silver, or paper money ; but he who does not spend 
a farthing but is counterfeit, he will comprehend me. He 
to whom every direct expression is but a fraud, he and he 
only, is safeguarded better than if he lived in a cloister-cell 
— he will be a hermit even if he travelled in an omnibus 
day and night. 

Scarcely had Victor finished when the Dressmaker jumped 
to his feet and threw over a bottle of wine standing before 
him ; then he spoke as follows : 

(The Dressmaker's Speech) 
Well spoken, dear fellow-banqueters, well spoken! The 

96 University of Texas Bulletin 

longer I hear you speak the more I grow convinced that you 
are fellow-conspirators — I greet you as such, I understand 
you as such ; for fellow-conspirators one can make out from 
afar. And yet, what know you? What does your bit of 
theory to which you wish to give the appearance of expe- 
rience, your bit of experience which you make over into a 
theory — what does it amount to? For every now and then 
you believe her a moment and — are caught in a moment! 
No, / know woman — from her weak side, that is to say, 
I know her. I shrink from no means to make sure about 
what I have learned ; for I am a madman, and a madman one 
must be to understand her, and if one has not been one be- 
fore, one will become a madman, once one understands her., 
The robber has his hiding place by the noisy high-road, and 
the ant-lion his funnel in the loose sand, and the pirate his 
haunts by the roaring sea : likewise have I may fashion- 
shop in the very midst of the teeming streets, seductive, 
irresistible to woman as is the Venusberg to men. There, 
in a fashion-shop, one learns to know woman, in a practical 
way and without any theoretical ado. 

Now, if fashion meant nothing than that woman in the 
heat of her desire threw off all her clothing — why, then it 
would stand for something. But this is not the case, fash- 
ion is not plain sensuality, not tolerated debauchery, but an 
illicit trade in indecency authorized as proper. And, just 
as in heathen Prussia the marriageable girl wore a bell 
whose ringing served as a signal to the men, likewise is a 
woman's existence in fashion a continual bell-ringing, not 
for debauchees but for lickerish voluptuaries. People hold 
Fortune to be a woman — ah, yes it is, to be sure, fickle; 
still, it is fickle in something, as it may also give much; 
and insofar it is not a woman. No ; but fashion is a woman, 
for fashion is fickleness in nonsense, and is consistent only 
in its becoming ever more crazy. 

One hour in my shop is worth more than days and years 
without, if it really be one's desire to learn to know woman ; 
in my shop, for it is the only one in the capital, there is no 
thought of competition. Who, forsooth, would dare to enter 
into competition with one who has entirely devoted himself, 

Selections from the Writings of Kierkegaard 97 

and is still devoting himself, as high-priest in this idol wor- 
ship? No, there is not a distinguished assemblage which 
does not mention my name first and last ; and there is not a 
middle-class gathering where my name, whenever men- 
tioned, does not inspire sacred awe, like that of the king; 
and there is no dress so idiotic but is accompanied by whis- 
pers of admiration when its owner proceeds down the hall 
— provided it bears my name; and there is not the lady of 
gentle birth who dares pass my shop by, nor the girl of 
humble origin but passes it sighing and thinking: if only 
I could afford it! Well, neither was she deceived. I de- 
ceive no one ; I furnish the finest goods and the most costly, 
and at the lowest price, indeed, I sell below cost. The fact 
is, I do not wish to make a profit. On the contrary, every 
year I sacrifice large sums. And yet do I mean to win, I 
mean to, I shall spend my last farthing in order to cor- 
rupt, in order to bribe, the tools of fashion so that I may 
win the game. To me it is a delight beyond compare to 
unroll the most precious stuffs, to cut them out, to clip 
pieces from genuine Brussels-lace, in order to make a fool's 
costume — I sell to the lowest prices,' genuine goods and in 

You believe, perhaps, that woman wants to be dressed 
fashionably only at certain times ? No such thing, she wants 
to be so all the time and that is her only thought. For a 
woman does have a mind, only it is employed about as well 
as is the Prodigal Son's substance; and woman does pos- 
sess the power of reflection in an incredibly high degree, 
for there is nothing so holy but she will in no time discover 
it to be reconcilable with her finery — and the chiefest ex- 
pression of finery is fashion. What wonder if she does dis- 
cover it to be reconcilable; for is not fashion holy to her? 
And there is nothing so insignificant but she certainly will 
know how to make it count in her finery — and the most fa- 
tuous expression of finery is fashion. And there is noth- 
ing, nothing in all her attire, not the least ribbon, of whose 
relation to fashion she has not a definite conception and 
concerning which she is not immediately aware whether the 

98 University of Texas Bulletin 

lady who just passed by noticed it; because, for whose ben- 
efit does she dress, if not for other ladies ! 

Even in my shop where she comes to be fitted out d la 
mode, even there she is in fashion. Just as there is a spe- 
cial bathing costume and a special riding habit, likewise 
there is a particular kind of dress which it is the fashion 
to wear to the dressmaker's shop. That costume is not 
insouciant in the same sense as is the negligee a lady is 
pleased to be surprised in, earlier in the forenoon, where 
the point is her belonging to the fair sex and the coquetry 
lies in her letting herself be surprised. The dressmaker 
costume, on the other hand, is calculated to be nonchalant 
and a bit careless without her being embarrassed thereby; 
because a dressmaker stands in a different relation to her 
from a cavalier. The coquetry here consists in thus show- 
ing herself to a man who, by reason of his station, does not 
presume to ask for the lady's womanly recognition, but must 
be content with the perquisites which fall abundantly to his 
share, without her ever thinking of it ; or without it even 
so much as entering her mind to play the lady before a 
dressm.aker. The point is, therefore, that her being of the 
opposite sex is, in a certain sense, left out of consideration, 
and her coquetry invalidated, by the superciliousness of the 
noble lady who would smile if any one alluded to any re- 
lation existing between her and her dressmaker. When 
visited in her negligee she conceals herself, thus displaying 
her charms by this very concealment. In my shop she ex- 
poses her charms with the utmost nonchalance, for he is 
only a dresmaker — and she is a woman. Now, her shawl 
slips down and bares some part of her body, and if I did 
not know what that means, and what she expects, my repu- 
tation would be gone to the winds. Now, she draws her- 
self up, a priori fashion, now she gesticulates a posteriori; 
now, she sways to and fro in her hips; now, she looks at 
herself in the mirror and sees my admiring phiz behind 
her in the glass ; now, she minces her words ; now, she trips 
along with short steps; now, she hovers; now, she draws 
her foot after her in a slovenly fashion ; now, she lets her- 
self sink softly into an arm-chair, whilst I with humble de- 

Selections from the Writings of Kierkegaard 99 

meaner offer her a flask of smelling salts and with my ador- 
ation assuage her agitation ; now, she strikes after me play- 
fully; now, she drops her handkerchief and, without as 
much as a single motion, lets her relaxed arm remain in its 
pendent position, whilst I bend down low to pick it up and 
return it to her, receiving a little patronizing nod as a 
reward. These are the ways of a lady of fashion when in 
my shop. Whether Diogenes** made any impression on the 
woman who was praying in a somewhat unbecoming pos- 
ture, when he asked her whether she did not believe the 
gods could see her from behind — ^that I do not know; but 
this I do know, that if I should say to her ladyship kneeling 
down in church: "The folds of your gown do not fall ac- 
cording to fashion," she would be more alarmed than if she 
had given offense to the gods. Woe to the outcast, the male 
Cinderella, who has not comprehended this! Pro dii im- 
mortales,*^ what, pray, is a woman who is not in fashion; 
per deos obsecro,*^ and what when she is in fashion ! 

Whether all this is true? Well, make trial of it: let the 
swain, when his beloved one sinks rapturously on his breast, 
whispering unintelligibly: "thine forever," and hides her 
head on his bosom — let him but say to her : "My sweet Kitty, 
your coiffure is not at all in fashion." — Possibly, men don't 
give thought to this ; but he who knows it, and has the rep- 
utation of knowing it, he is the most dangerous man in the 
kingdom. What blissful hours the lover passes with his 
sweetheart before marriage I do not know ; but of the bliss- 
ful hours she spends in my shop he hasn't the slightest ink- 
ling, either. Without my special license and sanction a 
marriage is null and void, anyway — or else an entirely ple- 
beian affair. Let it be the very moment when they are to 
meet before the altar, let her step forward with the very 
l)est conscience in the world that everything was bought in 
my shop and tried on there — and now, if I were to rush up 
and exclaim: "But mercy! gracious lady, your myrtle 
wreath is all awry" — ^why, the whole ceremony might be 

♦*See Diogenes Laertios, VI, 37. 

'"'By the immortal gods. 

♦^I adjure you by the gods. 

100 University of Texas Bulletin 

postponed, for aught I know. But men do not suspect these 
things, one must be a dressmaker to know. 

So immense is the power of reflection needed to fathom a 
woman's thought that only a man who dedicates himself 
wholly to the task will succeed, and even then only if gifted 
to start with. Happy therefore the man who does not as- 
sociate with any woman, for she is not his, anyway, even if 
she be no other man's ; for she is possessed by that phantom 
born of the unnatural intercourse of woman's reflection with 
itself, fashion. Do you see, for this reason should woman 
always swear by fashion — ^then were there some force in 
her oath; for after all, fashion is the thing she is always 
thinking of, the only thing she can think together with, and 
into, everything. For instance, the glad message has gone 
forth from my shop to all fashionable ladies that fashion 
decrees the use of a particular kind of head-dress to be 
worn in church, and that this hesid-dress, again, must be 
somewhat different for High Mass and for the afternoon 
service. Now when the bells are ringing the carriage stops 
in front of my door. Her ladyship descends (for also this 
has been decreed, that no one can adjust that head-dress 
save I, the fashion-dealer), I rush out, making low bows, 
and lead her into my cabinet. And whilst she languish- 
ingly reposes I put everything in order. Now she is ready 
and has looked at herself in the mirror; quick as any mes- 
senger of the gods I hasten in advance, open the door of my 
cabinet with a bow, then hasten to the door of my shop 
and lay my arm on my breast, like some oriental slave ; but, 
encouraged by a gracious courtesy, I even dare to throw 
her an adoring and admiring kiss — now she is seated in 
her carriage — oh dear! she left her hymn book behind. I 
hasten out again and hand it to her through the carriage 
window, I permit myself once more to remind her to hold 
her head a trifle more to the right, and herself to arrange 
things, should her head-dress become a bit disordered when 
descending. She drives away and is edified. 

You believe, perhaps, that it is only great ladies who wor- 
ship fashion, but far from it! Look at my sempstresses 
for whose dress I spare no expense, so that the dogmas of 

Selections from the Writings of Kierkegaard 101 

fashion may be proclaimed most emphatically from my shop. 
They form a chorus of half-witted creatures, and I myself 
lead them on as high-priest, as a shining example, squan- 
dering all, solely in order to make all womankind ridiculous. 
For when a seducer makes the boast that every woman's 
virtue has its price, I do not believe him; but I do believe 
that every woman at an early time will be crazed by the 
maddening and defiling introspection taught her by fashion, 
which will corrupt her more thoroughly than being seduced. 
I have made trial more than once. If not able to corrupt 
her myself I set on her a few of fashion's slaves of her own 
slation ; for just as one may train rats to bite rats, likewise 
is the crazed woman's sting like that of the tarantula. 
And most especially dangerous is it when some man lends 
his help. 

Whether I serve the Devil or God I do not know; but I 
am right, I shall be right, I will be, so long as I possess a 
single farthing, I will be until the blood spurts out of my 
fingers. The physiologist pictures the shape of woman to 
show the dreadful effects of wearing a corset, and beside it 
he draws a picture of her normal figure. That is all en- 
tirely correct, but only one of the drawings has the valid- 
ity of truth: they all wear corsets. Describe, therefore, 
the miserable, stunted perversity of the fashion-mad woman, 
describe the insidious introspection devouring her, and then 
describe the womanly modesty which least of all knows 
about itself — do so and you have judged woman, have in 
very truth passed terrible sentence on her. If ever I dis- 
cover such a girl who is contented and demure and not yet 
corrupted by indecent intercourse with women — she shall 
fall nevertheless. I shall catch her in my toils, already she 
stands at the sacrificial altar, that is to say, in my shop. 
With the most scornful glance a haughty monchalance can 
assume I measure her appearance, she perishes with fright ; 
a peal of laughter from the adjoining room where sit my 
trained accomplices annihilates her. And afterwards, 
when I have gotten her rigged up a la mode and she looks 
crazier than a lunatic, as crazy as one who would not be 
accepted even in a lunatic asylum, then she leaves me in a 

102 University of Texas Bulletin 

state of bliss — no man, not even a god, were able to inspire 
fear in her; for is she not dressed in fashion? 

Do you comprehend me now, do you comprehend why I 
call you fellow-conspirators, even though in a distant way? 
Do you now comprehend my conception of woman ? Every- 
thing in life is a matter of fashion, the fear of God is a 
matter of fashion, and so are love, and crinolines, and a ring 
through the nose. To the utmost of my ability will I there- 
fore come to the support of the exalted genius who wishes 
to laugh at the most ridiculous of all animals. If woman 
has reduced everything to a matter of fashion, then will I, 
with the help of fashion, prostitute her, as she deserves to 
be ; I have no peace, I the dressmaker, my soul rages when 
I think of my task — she will yet be made to wear a ring 
through her nose. Seek therefore no sweetheart, abandon 
love as you would the most dangerous neighborhood; for 
the one whom you love would also be made to go with a ring 
through her nose. 

Thereupon John, called the Seducer, spoke as follows: 

(The Speech of John the Seducer) 

My dear boon companions, is Satan plaguing you? For, 
indeed, you speak like so many hired mourners, your eyes 
are red with tears and not with wine. You almost move me 
to tears also, for an unhappy lover does have a miserable 
time of it in life. Hinc illae lacrimae.^'^ I, however, am a 
happy lover, and my only wish is to remain so. Very pos- 
sibly, that is one of the concessions to woman which Victor 
is so afraid of. Why not? Let it be a concession! Loos- 
ening the lead foil of this bottle of champagne also is a con- 
cession ; letting its foaming contents flow into my glass also 
is a concession ; and so is raising it to my lips— now I drain 
it — concedo.*^ Now, however, it is empty, hence I need no 
more concessions. Just the same with girls. If some un- 

<^ Therefore those tears. 
***I concede. 

Selections from the Writings of Kierkegaard 103 

happy lover has bought his kiss too dearly, this proves to 
me only that he does not know, either how to take what is 
coming to him or how to do it. I never pay too much for 
this sort of thing — that is a matter for the girls to decide. 
What this signifies? To me it signifies the most beautiful, 
the most delicious, and well-nigh the most persuasive, argu- 
mentum ad hominem; but since every woman, at least once 
in her life, possesses this argumentative freshness I do not 
see any reason why I should not let myself be persuaded. 
Our young friend wishes to make this experience in his 
thought. Why not buy a cream puff and be content with 
looking at it? I mean to enjoy. No mere talk for me! 
Just as an old song has it about a kiss : es ist kaum zu sehn, 
es ist nur fiir Lippen, die genau sich verstehn*^ — i^nderstand 
each other so exactly that any reflection about the matter 
is but an impertinence and a folly. He who is twenty and 
does not grasp the existence of the categorical imperative 
"enjoy thyself" — he is a fool; and he who does not seize 
the opportunity is and remains a Christianfelder.^® 

However, you all are unhappy lovers, and that is why you 
are not satisfied with woman as she is. The gods forbid! 
As she is she pleases me, just as she is. Even Constantin's 
category of "the joke" seems to contain a secret'desire. I, 
on the other hand, I am gallant. And why not? Gallantry 
costs nothing and gives one all and is the condition for all 
erotic pleasure. Gallantry is the Masonic language of the 
senses and of voluptuousness, between man and woman*. It 
is a natural language, as love's language in general is. It 
consists not of sounds but of desires disguised and of ever 
changing wishes. That an unhappy lover may be ungallant 
enough to wish to convert his deficit into a draught payable 
in immortality — that I understand well enough. That is to 
say, I for my part do not understand it ; for to me a woman 
has sufficient intrinsic value. I assure every woman of this, 
it is the truth ; and at the same time it is certain that I am 

■•^It can hardly be seen, it is but for lips which understand each 
other exactly. 

-oChristiansfeld, a town in South Jutland, was the seat of a colony 
of Herrhutian Pietists. 

104 University of Texas Bulletin 

the only one who is not deceived by this truth. As to 
whether a despoiled woman is worth less than man — about 
that I find no information in my price list. I do not pick 
flowers already broken, I leave them to the married men to 
use for Shrove-tide decoration. Whether e. g. Edward 
wishes to consider the matter again, and again fall in love 
with Cordelia, '^^ or simply repeat the affair in his reflection 
— that is his own business. Why should I concern myself 
with other peoples' affairs ! I explained to her at an earlier 
time what I thought of her; and, in truth, she convinced 
me, convinced me to my absolute satisfaction, that my gal- 
lantry was well applied. 

Concedo. Concessi.-'^ If I should meet with another 
Cordelia, why then I shall enact a comedy "Ring number 
2."^^ But you are unhappy lovers and have conspired to- 
gether, and are worse deceived than the girls, notwithstand- 
ing that you are richly endowed by nature. But decision — 
the decision of desire, is the most essential thing in life. 
Our young friend will always remain an onlooker. Victor 
is an unpractical enthusiast. Constantin has acquired his 
good sense at too great a cost; and the fashion dealer is a 
madman. Stuff and nonsense! With all four of you busy 
about one girl, nothing would come of it. 

Let one have enthusiasm enough to idealize, taste enough 
to join in the clinking of glasses at the festive board of en- 
joyment, sense enough to break off — to break off absolutely, 
as does Death, madness enough to wish to enjoy all over 
again — if you have all that you will be the favorite of gods 
and girls. 

But of what avail to speak here? I do not intend to 
make proselytes. Neither is this the place for that. To be 
sure I love wine, to be sure I love the abundance of a ban- 
quet — all that is good; but let a girl be my company, and 

'iThe reference is to the "Diary of the Seducer" (in "Either — Or," 
part I). Edward is the scorned lover of Cordelia who is seduced by 

521 concede. I have conceded. 

'^Reference to a comedy by Farquhar, which enjoyed a moderate 
popularity in Copenhagen. 

Selections from the Writings of Kierkegaard 105 

then I shall be eloquent. Let then Constantin have my 
thanks for the banquet, and the wine, and the excellent ap- 
pointments — the speeches, however, were but indifferent. 
But in order that things shall have a better ending I shall 
now pronounce a eulogy on woman. 

Just as he who is to speak in praise of the divinity must 
be inspired by the divinity to speak worthily, and must 
therefore be taught by the divinity as to what he shall say, 
likewise he who would speak of women. For woman, even 
less than the divinity, is a mere figment of man's brain, a 
day-dream, or a notion that occurs to one and which one 
may argue about pro et contra. Nay, one learns from 
woman alone what to say of her. And the more teachers 
one has had, the better. The first time one is a disciple, 
the next time one is already over the chief diflficulties, just 
as one learns in formal and learned disputations how to use 
the last opponent's compliments against a new opponent. 
Nevertheless nothing is lost. For as little as a kiss is a 
mere sample of good things, and as little as an embrace is an 
exertion, just as little is this experience exhaustive. In fact 
it is essentially different from the mathematical proof of a 
theorem, which remains ever the same, even though other 
letters be substituted. This method is one befitting mathe- 
matics and ghosts, but not love and women, because each 
is a new proof, corroborating the truth of the theorem in 
a different manner. It is my joy that, far from being less 
perfect than man, the female sex is, on the contrary, the 
more perfect. I shall, however, clothe my speech in a myth ; 
and I shall exult, on woman's account whom you have so 
unjustly maligned, if my speech pronounce judgment on 
your souls, if the enjoyment of her beckon you only to flee 
you, as did the fruits from Tantalus ; because you have fled, 
and thereby insulted, woman. Only thus, forsooth, may she 
be insulted, even though she scorn it, and though punish- 
ment instantly falls on him who had the audacity. I, how- 
ever, insult no one. That is but the notion of married men, 
and a slander ; whereas, in reality, I respect her more highly 
than does the man she is married to. 

Originally there was but one sex, so the Greeks relate, 

106 University of Texas Bulletin 

and that was man's. Splendidly endowed he was, so he 
did honor to the gods — so splendidly endowed that the same 
happened to them as sometimes happens to a poet who has 
expended all his energy on a poetic invention: they grew 
jealous of man. Ay, what is worse, they feared that he 
would not willingly bow under their yoke; they feared, 
though with small reason, that he might cause their very 
heaven to totter. Thus they had raised up a power they 
scarcely held themselves able to curb. Then there was anx- 
iety and alarm in the council of the gods. Much had they 
lavished in their generosity on the creation of man ; but all 
must be risked now, for reason of bitter necessity; for all 
was at stake — so the gods believed — and recalled he could 
not be, as a poet may recall his invention. And by force he 
could not be subdued, or else the gods themselves could have 
done so; but precisely of that they despaired. He would 
have to be caught and subdued, then, by a power weaker 
than his own and yet stronger — one strong enough to com- 
pel him. What a marvellous power this would have to be ! 
However, necessity teaches even the gods to surpass them- 
selves in inventiveness. They sought and they found. That 
power was woman, the marvel of creation, even in the eyes 
of the gods a greater marvel than man — a discovery which 
the gods in their naivete could not help but applaud them- 
selves for. What more can be said in her praise than that 
she was able to accomplish what even the gods did not be- 
lieve themselves able to do; and what more can be said in 
her praise than that she did accomplish it! But how mar- 
vellous a creation must be hers to have accomplished it. 

It was a ruse of the gods. Cunningly the enchantress 
was fashioned, for no sooner had she bewitched man than 
she changed and caught him in all the circumstantialities 
of existence. It was that the gods had desired. But what, 
pray, can be more delicious, or more entrancing and be- 
witching, than what the gods themselves contrived, when 
battling for their supremacy, as the only means of luring 
man? And most assuredly it is so, for woman is the only, 
and the most seductive, power in heaven and on earth. 

Selections from the Writings of Kierkegaard 107 

When compared with her in this sense man will indeed be 
found to be exceedingly imperfect. 

And the stratagem of the gods was crowned with suc- 
cess ; but not always. There have existed at all times some 
men — a few — who have detected the deception. They per- 
ceive well enough woman's loveliness — more keenly, indeed 
than the others — ^but they also suspect the real state of 
affairs. I call them erotic natures and count myself among 
them. Men call them seducers, woman has no name for 
them — such persons are to her unnameable. These erotic 
natures are the truly fortunate ones. They live more lux- 
uriously than do the very gods, for they regale themselves 
with food more delectable than ambrosia, and they drink 
what is more delicious than nectar; they eat the most se- 
ductive invention of the gods' most ingenious thought, they 
are ever eating dainties set for a bait — ah, incomparable 
delight, ah, blissful fare — they are ever eating but the dain- 
ties set for a bait; and they are never caught. All other 
men greedily seize and devour it, like bumpkins eating their 
cabbage, and are caught. Only the erotic nature fully ap- 
preciates the dainties set out for bait — he prizes them in- 
finitely. Woman divines this, and for that reason there is 
a secret understanding between him and her. But he knows 
also that she is a bait, and that secret he keeps to himself. 

That nothing more marvellous, nothing more delicious, 
nothing more seductive, than woman can be devised, for 
that vouch the gods and their pressing need which hight- 
ened their powers of invention; for that vouches also the 
fact that they risked all, and in shaping her moved heaven 
and earth. 

I now forsake the myth. The conception "man" corre- 
sponds to his "idea." I can therefore, if necessary, think 
of an individual man as existing. The idea of woman, on 
the other hand, is so general that no one single woman is 
able to express it completely. She is not contemporaneous 
with man (and hence of less noble origin), but a later crea- 
tion, though more perfect than he. Whether now the gods 
took some part from him whilst he slept, from fear of wak- 
ing him by taking too much ; or whether they bisected him 

108 University of Texas Bulletin 

and made woman out of the one half — at any rate it was 
man who was partitioned. Hence she is the equal of man 
only after this partition. She is a delusion and a snaref^ but 
is so only afterwards, and for him who is deluded. She is 
finiteness incarnate; but in her first stage she is finiteness 
raised to the highest degree in the deceptive infinitude of 
all divine and human illusions. Now, the deception does 
not exist — one instant longer, and one is deceived. 

She is finiteness, and as such she is a collective : one 
woman represents all women. Only the erotic nature com- 
prehends this and therefore knows how to love many with- 
out ever being deceived, sipping the while all the delights 
the cunning gods were able to prepare. For this reason, 
as I said, woman cannot be fully expressed by one formula, 
but is, rather, an infinitude of finalities. He who wishes 
to think her "idea" will have the same experience as he who 
gazes on a sea of nebulous shapes which ever form anew, 
or as he who is dazed by looking over the waves whose foamy 
crests ever mock one's vision ; for her "idea" is but the work- 
shop of possibilities. And to the erotic nature these possi- 
bilities are the everlasting reason for his worship. 

So the gods created her delicate and ethereal as if out of 
the mists of the summer night, yet goodly like ripe fruit; 
light like a bird, though the repository of what attracts all 
the world — light because the play of the forces is harmo- 
niously balanced in the invisible center of a negative rela- 
tion;'^* slender in growth, with definite lines, yet her body 
sinuous with beautiful curves; perfect, yet ever appearing 
as if completed but now ; cool, delicious, and refreshing like 
new-fallen snow, yet blushing in coy transparency; happy 
like some pleasantry which makes one forget all one's sor- 
row ; soothing as being the end of desire, and satisfying in 
herself being the stimulus of desire. And the gods had 
calculated that man, when first beholding her, would be 
amazed, as one who sees himself, though familiar with that 
sight — would stand in amaze as one who sees himself in the 

■'•^I.e., evidently, she does not exist because of herself; hence she 
\f. in a "negative" relation to herself. The center of this relation is 
"what attracts all the world." 

Selections from the Writings of Kierkegaard 109 

splendor of perfection — would stand in amaze as one who 
beholds what he did never dream he would, yet beholds 
what, it would seem, ought to have occurred to him before — 
sees what is essential to life and yet gazes on it as being 
the very mystery of existence. It is precisely this contra- 
diction in his admiration which nurses desire to life, while 
this same admiration urges him ever nearer, so that he can- 
not desist from gazing, cannot desist from believing him- 
self familiar with the sight, without really daring to ap- 
proach, even though he cannot desist from desiring. 

When the gods had thus planned her form they were 
seized with fear lest they might not have the wherewithal 
to give it existence; but what they feared even more was 
herself. For they dared not let her know how beautiful she 
was, apprehensive of having some one in the secret who 
might spoil their ruse. Then was the crowning touch given 
to their wondrous creation: they made her faultless; but 
they concealed all this from her in the nescience of her in- 
nocence, and concealed it doubly from her in the impene- 
trable mystery of her modesty. Now she was perfect, and 
victory certain. Inviting she had been before, but now 
doubly so through her shyness, and beseeching through her 
shrinking, and irresistible through herself offering resist- 
ance. The gods were jubilant. And no allurement has ever 
been devised in the world so great as is woman, and no al- 
lurement is as compelling as is innocence, and no tempta- 
tion is as ensnaring as is modesty, and no deception is as 
matchless as is woman. She knows of nothing, still her 
modesty is instinctive divination. She is distinct from 
man, and the separating wall of modesty parting them is 
more decisive than Aladdin's sword separating him from 
Gulnare;^" and yet, when like Pyramis he puts his head 
to this dividing wall of modesty, the erotic nature will per- 
ceive all pleasures of desire divined within as from afar. 

Thus does woman tempt. Men are wont to set forth the 
most precious things they possess as a delectation for the 
gods, nothing less will do. Thus is woman a show-bread. 

^In Oehlenschlager's "Aladdin. 

110 University of Texas Bulletin 

the gods knew of naught comparable to her. She exists, 
she is present, she is with us, close by; and yet she is re- 
moved from us to an infinite distance when concealed in her 
modesty — until she herself betrays her hiding place, she 
knows not how : it is not she herself, it is life which informs 
on her. Roguish she is like a child who in playing peeps 
forth from his hiding place, yet her roguishness is inex- 
plicable, for she does not know of it herself, she is ever 
mysterious — mysterious when she casts down her eyes, 
mysterious when she sends forth the messengers of her 
glance which no thought, let alone any word, is able to fol- 
low. And yet is the eye the "interpreter" of the soul ! What, 
then, is the explanation of this mystery if the interpreter 
too is unintelligible? Calm she is like the hushed stillness 
of eventide, when not a leaf stirs ; calm like a consciousness 
as yet unaware of aught. Her heart-beats are as regular 
as if life were not present ; and yet the erotic nature, listen- 
ing with his stethoscopically practiced ear, detects the 
dithyrambic pulsing of desire sounding along unbeknown. 
Careless she is like the blowing of the wind, content like the 
profound ocean, and yet full of longing like a thing biding 
its explanation. My friends! My mind is softened, in- 
describably softened. I comprehend that also my life ex- 
presses an idea, even if you do not comprehend me. I too 
have discovered the secret of existence ; I too serve a divine 
idea — and, assuredly, I do not serve it for nothing. If 
woman is a ruse of the gods, this means that she is to be 
seduced ; and if woman is not an "idea," the true inference 
is that the erotic nature wishes to love as many of them 
as possible. 

What luxury it is to relish the ruse without being duped, 
only the erotic nature comprehends. And how blissful it 
is to be seduced, woman alone knows. I know that from 
woman, even though I never yet allowed any one of them 
time to explain it to me, but re-asserted my independence, 
serving the idea by a break as sudden as that caused by 
death; for a bride and a break are to one another like fe- 
male and male.''" Only woman is aware of this, and she is 

''"In the Danish, a pun on the homonyms en brud and et hrud. 

Selections from the Writings of Kierkegaard 111 

aware of it together with her seducer. No married man 
will ever grasp this. Nor does she ever speak with him 
about it. She resigns herself to her fate, she knows that 
it must be so and that she can be seduced only once. For 
this reason she never really bears malice against the man 
who seduced her. That is to say, if he really did seduce 
her and thus expressed the idea. Broken marriage vows 
and that kind of thing is, of course, nonsense and no se- 
duction. Indeed, it is by no means so great a misfortune 
for a woman to be seduced. In fact, it is a piece of good 
fortune for her. An excellently seduced girl may make 
an excellent wife. If I myself were not fit to be a seducer 
— however deeply I feel my inferior qualifications in this 
respect — if I chose to be a married man, I should always 
choose a girl already seduced, so that I would not have to 
begin my marriage by seducing my wife. Marriage, to be 
sure, also expresses an idea; but in relation to the idea of 
marriage that quality is altogether immaterial which is 
the absolutely essential condition for my idea. Therefore, 
a marriage ought never to be planned to begin as though it 
were the beginning of a story of seduction. So much is 
sure: there is a seducer for every woman. Happy is she 
whose good fortune it is to meet just him. 

Through marriage, on the other hand, the gods win their 
victory. In it the once seduced maiden walks through life 
by the side of her husband, looking back at times, full of 
longing, resigned to her fate, until she reaches the goal of 
life. She dies ; but not in the same sense as man dies. She 
is volatilized and resolved into that mysterious primal ele- 
ment of which the gods formed her — she disappears like a 
dream, like an impermanent shape whose hour is past. For 
what is woman but a dream, and the highest reality withal ! 
Thus does the erotic nature comprehend her, leading her, 
and being led by her in the moment of seduction, beyond 
time — where she has her true existence, being an illusion. 
Through her husband, on the other hand, she becomes a 
creature of this world, and he through her. 

Marvellous nature! If I did not admire thee, a woman 
would teach me; for truly she is the venerabile of life. 

112 University of Texas Bulletin 

Splendidly didst thou fashion her, but more splendidly still 
in that thou never didst fashion one woman like another. 
In man, the essential i s the essential, and insofar always 
alike ; but in woman the adventitious is the essential, and is 
thus an inexhaustible source of differences. Brief is her 
splendor; but quickly the pain is forgotten, too, when the 
same splendor is proffered me anew. It is true, I too am 
aware of the unbeautiful which may appear in her there- 
after; but she is not thus with her seducer. 

They rose from the table. It needed but a hint from 
Constantin, for the participants understood each other with 
military precision whenever there was a question of face 
or turn about. With his invisible baton of command, elas- 
tic like a divining rod in his hand, Constantin once more 
touched them in order to call forth in them a fleeting remin- 
iscence of the banquet and the spirit of enjoyment which 
had prevailed before but was now, in some measure, sub- 
merged through the intellectual effort of the speeches — in 
order that the note of glad festivity which had disappeared 
might, by way of resonance, return once more among the 
guests in a brief moment of recollection. He saluted with 
his full glass as a signal of parting, emptying it, and then 
flinging it against the door in the rear wall. The others 
followed his example, consummating this symbolic action 
with all the solemnity of adepts. Justice was thus done the 
pleasure of stopping short — that royal pleasure which, 
though briefer, yet is more liberating than any other pleas- 
ure. With a libation this pleasure ought to be entered upon, 
with the libation of flinging one's glass into destruction and 
oblivion, and tearing one's self passionately away from every 
memory, as if it were a danger to one's life: this libation 
is to the gods of the nether world. One breaks off, 
and strength is needed to do that, greater strength than to 
sever a knot by a sword-blow ; for the difficulty of the knot 
tends to arouse one's passion, but the passion required for 
breaking off must be of one's own making. In a superficial 

Selections from the Writings of Kierkegaard 113 

sense the result is, of course, the same ; but from an artistic 
point of view there is a world of difference between some- 
thing ceasing or simply coming to an end, and it being 
broken off by one's own free will — whether it is a mere oc- 
currence or a passionate decision; whether it is all over, 
like a school song, because there is no more to it, 
or whether it is terminated by the Caesarian operation of 
one's own pleasure; whether it is a triviality every one 
has experienced, or the secret which escapes most. 

Constantin's flinging his beaker against the door was in- 
tended merely as a symbolic rite ; nevertheless, his so doing 
was, in a way, a decisive act ; for when the last glass was 
shattered the door opened, and just as he who presump- 
uously knocked at Death's door and, on its opening, beheld 
the powers of annihilation, so the banqueters beheld the 
corps of destruction ready to demolish everything — a me- 
mento which in an instant put them to flight from that 
place, while at the very same moment the entire surround- 
ings had been reduced to the semblance of ruin. 

A carriage stood ready at the door. At Constantin's in- 
vitation they seated themselves in it and drove away in good 
spirits; for that tableau of destruction which they left be- 
hind had given their souls fresh elasticity. After having 
covered a distance of several miles a halt was made. Here 
Constantin took his leave as host, informing them that five 
carriages were at their disposal — each one was free to suit 
his own pleasure and drive wherever he wanted, whether 
alone or in company with whomsoever he pleased. Thus a 
rocket, propelled by the force of the powder, ascends at a 
single shot, remains collected for an instant, in order then 
to spread out to all the winds. 

While the horses were being hitched to the carriages the 
nocturnal banqueters strolled a little way down the road. 
The fresh air of the morning purified their hot blood with 
its coolness, and they gave themselves up to it entirely. 
Their forms, and the groups in which they ranged them- 
selves, made a phantastic impression on me. For when the 
morning sun shines on field and meadow, and on every crea- 
ture which in the night found rest and strength to rise up 

114 University of Texas Bulletin 

jubilating with the sun — in this there is only a pleasing, 
mutual understanding; but a nightly company, viewed by 
the morning light and in smiling surroundings, makes a 
downright uncanny impression. It makes one think of 
spooks which have been surprised by daylight, of subter- 
ranean spirits which are unable to regain the crevice 
through which they may vanish, because it is visible only 
in the dark; of unhappy creatures in whom the difference 
between day and night has become obliterated through the 
monotony of their sufferings. 

A foot path led them through a small patch of field to- 
ward a garden surrounded by a hedge, from behind whose 
concealment a modest summer-cottage peeped forth. At 
the end of the garden, toward the field, there was an arbor 
formed by trees. Becoming aware of people being in the 
arbor, they all grew curious, and with the spying glances 
of men bent on observation, the besiegers closed in about 
that pleasant place of concealment, hiding themselves, and 
as eager as emissaries of the police about to take some one 
by surprise. Like emissaries of the police — well, to be sure, 
their appearance made the misunderstanding possible that 
it was they whom the minions of the law might be looking 
for. Each one had occupied a point of vantage for peep- 
ing in, when Victor drew back a step and said to his neigh- 
bor, "Why, dear me, if that is not Judge William and his 

They were surprised — not the two whom the foliage con- 
cealed and who were all too deeply concerned with their 
domestic enjoyment to be observers. They felt themselves 
too secure to believe themselves an object of any one's ob- 
servation excepting the morning sun's which took pleasure 
in looking in to them, whilst a gentle zephyr moved the 
boughs above them, and the reposefulness of the country- 
side, as well as all things around them girded the little 
arbor about with peace. The happy married couple was 
not surprised and noticed nothing. That they were a mar- 
ried couple was clear enough; one could perceive that at a 
glance — alas ! if one is something of an observer one's self. 
Even if nothing in the wide world, nothing, whether overtly 

Selections from the Writings of Kierkegaard 115 

or covertly, if nothing, I say, threatens to interfere with the 
happiness of lovers, yet they are not thus secure when sit- 
ting together. They are in a state of bliss ; and yet it is as if 
there were some power bent on separating them, so firmly 
they clasp one another; and yet it is as if there were some 
enemy present against whom they must defend themselves ; 
and yet it is as if they could never become sufficiently re- 
assured. Not thus married people, and not thus that mar- 
ried couple in the arbor. How long they had been married, 
however, that was not to be determined with certainty. To 
be sure, the wife's activity at the tea-table revealed a sure- 
ness of hand born of practice, but at the same time such 
almost childlike interest in her occupation as if she were 
a newly married woman and in that middle condition when 
she is not, as yet, sure whether marriage is fun or earnest, 
whether being a housewife is a calling, or a game, or a 
pastime. Perhaps she had been married for some longer 
time but did not generally preside at the tea-table, or per- 
haps did so only out here in the country, or did it perhaps 
only that morning which, possibly, had a special signifi- 
cance for them. Who could tell? All calculation is frus- 
trated to a certain degree by the fact that every personality 
exhibits some originality which keeps time from leaving 
its marks. When the sun shines in all his summer glory 
one thinks straightway that there must be some festal oc- 
casion at hand — that it cannot be so for every-day use, or 
that it is the first time, or at least one of the first times; 
for surely, one thinks, it cannot be repeated for any length 
of time. Thus would think he who saw it but once, or saw 
it for the first time; and I saw the wife of the justice for 
the first time. He who sees the object in question every 
day may think differently ; provided he sees the same thing. 
But let the judge decide about that! 

As I remarked, our amiable housewife was occupied. 
She poured boiling water into the cups, probably to warm 
them, emptied them again, set a cup on a platter, poured 
the tea and served it with sugar and cream — now all was 
ready; was it fun or earnest? In case a person did not 
relish tea at other times — he should have sat in the judge's 

116 University of Texas Bulletin 

place; for just then that drink seemed most inviting to me, 
only the inviting air of the lovely woman herself seemed 
to me more inviting. 

It appeared that she had not had time to speak until then. 
Now she broke the silence and said, while serving him his 
tea : "Quick, now, dear, and drink while it is hot, the morn- 
ing air is quite cool, anyway ; and surely the least I can do 
for you is to be a little careful of you." "The least?" the 
judge answered laconically, "Yes, or the most, or the only 
thing." The judge looked at her inquiringly, and whilst 
he was helping himself she continued : "You interrupted me 
yesterday when I wished to broach the subject, but I have 
thought about it again; many times I have thought about 
it, and now particularly, you know yourself in reference to 
whom : it is certainly true that if you hadn't married, you 
would have been far more successful in your career." With 
his cup still on the platter the judge sipped a first mouthful 
with visible enjoyment, thoroughly refreshed ; or was it 
perchance the joy over his lovely wife ; I for my part believe 
it was the latter. She, however, seemed only to be glad that 
it tasted so good to him. Then he put down his cup on the 
table at his side, took out a cigar, and said : "May I light it 
at your chafing-dish"? "Certainly," she said, and handed 
him a live coal on a tea-spoon. He lit his cigar and put his 
arm about her waist whilst she leaned against his shoulder. 
He turned his head the other way to blow out the smoke, 
and then he let his eyes rest on her with a devotion such 
as only a glance can reveal; yet he smiled, but this glad 
smile had in it a dash of sad irony. Finally he said : "Do 
you really believe so, my girl?" "What do you mean?" 
she answered. He was silent again, his smile gained the 
upper hand, but his voice remained quite serious, neverthe- 
less. "Then I pardon you your previous folly, seeing that 
you yourself have forgotten it so quickly ; thou speakest as 
one of the foolish women speaketh^'^ — what great career 
should I have had?" His wife seemed embarrassed for a 
moment by this return, but collected her wits quickly and 

"Job 2, 10. 

Selections from the WHtings of Kierkegaard 117 

now explained her meaning with womanly eloquence. The 
judge looked down before him, without interrupting her; 
but as she continued he began to drum on the table with the 
fingers of his right hand, at the same time humming a tune. 
The words of the song were audible for a moment, just as 
the pattern of a texture now becomes visible, now disap- 
pears again ; and then again they were heard no longer as 
he hummed the tune of the song : "The goodman he went to 
the forest, to cut the wands so white." After this melo- 
dramatic performance, consisting in the justice's wife ex- 
plaining herself whilst he hummed his tune, the dialogue 
set in again. "I am thinking," he remarked, "I am think- 
ing you are ignorant of the fact that the Danish Law per- 
mits a man to castigate his wife'^ — a pity only that the law 
does not indicate on which occasions it is permitted." His 
wife ?miled at his threat and continued : "Now why can I 
never get you to be serious when I touch on this matter? 
You do not understand me : believe me, I mean it sincerely, 
it seems to me a very beautiful thought. Of course, if you 
'veren't my husband I would not dare to entertain it; but 
now I have done' so, for your sake and for my sake ; and now 
be nice and serious, for my sake, and answer me frankly." 
"No, you can't get me to be serious, and a serious answer 
you won't get ; I must either laugh at j' ou, or make you for- 
get it, as before, or beat you ; or else you must stop talking 
pbout it, or I shall have to make you keep silent about it 
some other way. You see, it is a joke, and that is why there 
are so many ways out." He arose, pressed a kiss on her 
brow, laid her arm in his, and then disappeared in a leafy 
valk which led from the arbor. 

The arbor was empty; there was nothing else to do, so 
the hostile corps of occupation withdrew without making 
any gains. Still, the others were content with uttering 

^'"According to the Jutland Laws (A. D. 1241) a man is oermitted 
to punish his wife, when she has misbehaved, with stick and with 
rod, but not with weapon. In the Danish Law (1683) this right is 
restricted to children and servants. S. V. 

118 University of Texas Bulletin 

some malicious remarks. The company returned but missed 
Victor. He had rounded the corner and, in walking along 
the garden, had come up to the country home. The doors 
of a garden-room facing the lawn were open, and likewise 
a window. Very probably he had seeri something which 
attracted his attention. He leapt into the window, and 
leapt out again just as the party were approaching, for 
they had been looking for him. Triumphantly he held up 
some papers in his hand and exclaimed : "One of the judge's 
manuscripts!^'' Seeing that I edited his other works it is 
no more than my duty that I should edit this one too." He 
put it into his pocket; or, rather, he was about to do so; 
for as he was bending his arm and already had his hand with 
the manuscript half-way down in his pocket I managed to 
steal it from him. 

But who, then, am I ? Let no one ask ! If it hasn't oc- 
curred to you before to ask about it I am over the difficulty ; 
lor now the worst is behind me. For that matter, I am not 
worth asking about, for I am the least of all things, people 
woyld put me in utter confusion by asking about me. I 
am pure existence, and therefore smaller, almost, than noth- 
ing. I am "pure existence" which is present everywhere 
but still is never noticed; for I am ever vanishing. I am 
like the line above which stands the summa summar'um — 
who cares about the line? By my own strength I can ac- 
complish nothing, for even the idea to steal the manuscript 
from Victor was not my own idea ; for this very idea which, 
as a thief would say, induced me to "borrow" the manu- 
script, was borrowed from him. And now, when editing 
this manuscript, I am, again, nothing at all ; for it rightly 
belongs to the judge. And as editor, I am in my nothing- 
ness only a kind of nemesis on Victor, who imagined that 
he had the prescriptive right to do so. 

''-•Containing the second part of "Stages on Life's Road," entitled 
'Reflections on Marriage in Refutation of Objections." 



Not only in the world of commerce but also in the world 
of ideas our age has arranged a regular clearance-sale. 
Everything may be had at such absurdedly low prices that 
very soon the question will arise whether any one cares to 
bid. Every waiter with a speculative turn who carefully 
marks the significant progress of modern philosophy, every 
lecturer in philosophy, every tutor, student, every sticker- 
and-quitter of philosophy — they are not content with doubt- 
ing everything, but "go right on." It might, possibly, be 
ill-timed and inopportune to ask them whither they are 
bound ; but it is no doubt polite and modest to ,take it for 
granted that they have doubted everything — else it were a 
curious statement for them to make, that they were pro- 
ceeding onward. So they have, all of them, completed that 
preliminary operation and, it would seem, with such ease 
that they do not think it necessary to waste a word about 
how they did it. The fact is, not even he who looked anx- 
iously and with a troubled spirit for some little point of in- 
formation, ever found one, nor any instruction, nor even 
any little dietetic prescription, as to how one is to accom- 
plish this enormous task. "But did not Descartes proceed 
in this fashion?" Descartes, indeed! that venerable, hum- 
ble, honest thinker whose writings surely no one can read 
without deep emotion — Descartes did what he said, and said 
what he did. Alas, alas ! that is a mighty rare thing in our 
times ! But Descartes, as he says frequently enough, never 
uttered doubts concerning his faith. . . . 

In our times, as was remarked, no one is content with 
faith, but "goes right on." The question as to whither 
they are proceeding may be a silly question; whereas it is 
a sign of urbanity and culture to assume that every one has 
faith, to begin with, for else it were a curious statement 
for them to make, that they are proceeding further. I.i the 
olden days it was different. Then, faith was a task for a 

120 University of Texas Bulletin 

whole life-time because it was held that proficiency in faith 
was not to be won within a few days or weeks. Hence, 
when the tried patriarch felt his end approaching, after 
having fought his battles and preserved his faith, he was 
still young enough at heart not to have forgotten the fear 
and trembling which disciplined his youth and which the 
mature man has under control, but which no one entirely 
outgrows — except insofar as he succeeds in "going on" as 
early as possible. The goal which those venerable men 
reached at last — at that spot every one starts, in our times, 
in order to "proceed further." . . . 


There lived a man who, when a child, had heard the beau- 
tiful Bible story of how God tempted Abraham and how he 
stood the test, how he maintained his faith and, against his 
expectations, received his son back again. As this man 
grew older he read this same story with ever greater ad- 
miration ; for now life had separated what had been united 
in the reverent simplicity of the child. And the older he 
grew, the more frequently his thoughts reverted to that 
story. His enthusiasm waxed stronger and stronger, and 
yet the story grew less and less clear to him. Finally he 
forgot everything else in thinking about it, and his soul 
contained but one wish, which was, to behold Abraham: 
and but one longing, which was, to have been witness to 
that event. His desire was, not to see the beautiful lands 
of the Orient, and not the splendor of the Promised Land, 
and not the reverent couple whose old age the Lord had 
blessed with children, and not the venerable figure of the 
aged patriarch, and not the god-given vigorous youth of 
Isaac — it would have been the same to him if the event 

Selections from the Writings of Kierkegaard 121 

had come to pass on some barren heath. But his wish was, 
to have been with Abraham on the three days' journey, 
when he rode with sorrow before him and with Isaac at his 
side. His wish was, to have been present at the moment 
when Abraham lifted up his eyes and saw Mount Moriah 
afar off; to have been present at the moment when he left 
his asses behind and wended his way up to the mountain 
alone with Isaac. For the mind of this man was busy, not 
with the delicate conceits of the imagination, but rather 
with his shuddering thought. 

The man we speak of was no thinker, he felt no desire 
to go beyond his faith : it seemed to him the most glorious 
fate to be remembered as the Father of Faith, and a most 
enviable lot to be possessed of that faith, even if no one 
knew it. 

The man we speak of was no learned exegetist, he did not 
even understand Hebrew — who knows but a knowledge of 
Hebrew might have helped him to understand readily both 
the story and Abraham. 


And God tempted Abraham and said unto him: take 
Isaac, thine only son, whom thou lovest and go to the land 
Moriah and sacrifice him there on a mountain which I shall 
show thee.^ 

It was in the early morning, Abraham arose betimes and 
had his asses saddled. He departed from his tent, and 
Isaac with him ; but Sarah looked out of the window after 
them until they were out of sight. Silently they rode for 
three days ; but on the fourth morning Abraham said not a 
word but lifted up his eyes and beheld Mount Moriah in the 
distance. He left his servants behind and, leading Isaac 
by the hand, he approached the mountain. But Abraham 
said to himself: "I shall surely conceal from Isaac whither 
he is going." He stood still, he laid his hand on Isaac's 
head to bless him, and Isaac bowed down to receive his 
blessing. And Abraham's aspect was fatherly, his glance 

'Freely after Genesis 22. 

122 University of Texas Bulletin 

was mild, his speech admonishing. But Isaac understood 
him not, his soul would not rise to him ; he embraced Abra- 
ham's knees, he besought him at his feet, he begged for his 
young life, for his beautiful hopes, he recalled the joy in 
Abraham's house when he was born, he reminded him of the 
sorrow and the loneliness that would be after him. Then 
did Abraham raise up the youth and lead him by his hand, 
and his words were full of consolation and admonishment. 
But Isaac understood him not. He ascended Mount Moriah, 
but Isaac understood him not. Then Abraham averted his 
face for a moment; but when Isaac looked again, his 
father's countenance was changed, his glance wild, his 
aspect terrible, he seized Isaac and threw him to the ground 
and said: "Thou foolish lad, believest thou I am thy father? 
An idol-worshipper am I. Believest thou it is God's com- 
mand? Nay, but my pleasure." Then Isaac trembled and 
cried out in his fear : "God in heaven, have pity on me, God 
of Abraham, show mercy to me, I have no father on earth, 
be thou then my father!" But Abraham said softly to 
himself : "Father in heaven, I thank thee. Better is it that 
he believes me inhuman than that he should lose his faith 
in thee." 

When the child is to be weaned, his mother blackens 
her breast ; for it were a pity if her breast should look sweet 
to him when he is not to have it. Then the child believes 
that her breast has changed ; but his mother is ever the 
same, her glance is full of love and as tender as ever. 
Happy he who needed not worse means to wean his child ! 


It was in the early morning. Abraham arose betimes 
and embraced Sarah, the bride of his old age. And Sarah 

Selections from the Writings of Kierkegaard 123 

kissed Isaac who had taken the shame from her — Isaac, 
her pride, her hope for all coming generations. Then the 
twain rode silently along their way, and Abraham's glance 
was fastened on the ground before him ; until on the fourth 
day, when he lifted up his eyes and beheld Mount Moriah 
in the distance ; but then his eyes again sought the ground. 
Without a word he put the fagots in order and bound Isaac, 
and without a word he unsheathed his knife. Then he be- 
held the ram God had chosen, and sacrificed him, and 
wended his way home. . . . From that day on Abraham grew 
old. He could not forget that God had required this of 
him. Isaac flourished as before; but Abraham's eye was 
darkened, he saw happiness no more. 

When the child has grown and is to be weaned, his mother 
will in maidenly fashion conceal her breast. Then the child 
has a mother no longer. Happy the child who lost not his 
mother in any other sense ! 


It was in the early morning. Abraham arose betimes; 
he kissed Sarah, the young mother, and Sarah kissed IsaaC; 
her joy, her delight for all times. And Abraham rode on 
his way, lost in thought — he was thinking of Hagar and her 
son whom he had driven out into the wilderness. He as- 
cended Mount Moriah and he drew the knife. 

It was a calm evening when Abraham rode out alone, 
and he rode to Mount Moriah. There he cast himself down 
on his face and prayed to God to forgive him his sin in 
that he had been about to sacrifice his son Isaac, and in 
that the father had forgotten his duty toward his son. And 
yet oftener he rode on his lonely way, but he found no rest. 

124 University of Texas Bulletin 

He could not grasp that it was a sin that he had wanted to 
sacrifice to God his most precious possession, him for whom 
he would most gladly have died many times. But, if it was 
a sin, if he had not loved Isaac thus, then could he not grasp 
the possibility that he could be forgiven : for what sin more 

When the child is to be weaned, the mother is not with- 
out sorrow that she and her child are to be separated more 
and more, that the child who had first lain under her heart, 
and afterwards at any rate rested at her breast, is to be 
so near to her no more. So they sorrow together for that 
brief while. Happy he who kept his child so near to him 
and needed not to sorrow more ! 


It was in the early morning. All was ready for the 
journey in the house of Abraham. He bade farewell to 
Sarah; and Eliezer, his faithful servant, accompanied him 
along the way for a little while. They rode together in 
peace, Abraham and Isaac, until they came to Mount Moriah. 
And Abraham prepared everything for the sacrifice, calmly 
and mildly ; but when his father turned aside in order to 
unsheath his knife, Isaac saw that Abraham's left hand was 
knit in despair and that a trembling shook his frame — but 
Abraham drew forth the knife. 

Then they returned home again, and Sarah hastened to 
meet them ; but Isaac had lost his faith. No one in all the 
world ever said a word about this, nor did Isaac speak to 
any man concerning what he had seen, and Abraham sus- 
pected not that any one had seen it. 

Selections from the Writings of Kierkegaard 125 

When the child is to be weaned, his mother has the 
stronger food ready lest the child perish. Happy he who 
has in readiness this stronger food ! 

Thus, and in many similar ways, thought the man whom 
I have mentioned about this event. And every time he 
returned, after a pilgrimage to Mount Moriah, he sank down 
in weariness, folding his hands and saying: "No one, in 
truth, was great as was Abraham, and who can understand 


If a consciousness of the eternal were not implanted in 
man; if the basis of all that exists were but a confusedly 
fermenting element which, convulsed by obscure passions, 
produced all, both the great and the insignificant; if under 
everything there lay a bottomless void never to be filled — 
what else were life but despair? If it were thus, and if 
there were no sacred bonds between man and man ; if one 
generation arose after another, as in the forest the leaves 
of one season succeed the leaves of another, or like the songs 
of birds which are taken up one after another ; if the genera- 
tions of man passed through the world like a ship passing 

126 University of Texas Bulletin 

through the sea and the wind over the desert — a fruitless 
and a vain thing; if eternal oblivion were ever greedily 
watching for its prey and there existed no power strong 
enough to wrest it from its clutches — how empty were life 
then, and how dismal! And therefore it is not thus; but, 
just as God created man and woman, he likewise called into 
being the hero and the poet or orator. The latter cannot 
perform the deeds of the hero — he can only admire and love 
him and rejoice in him. And yet he also is happy and not 
less so ; for the hero is, as it were, his better self with which 
he has fallen in love, and he is glad he is not himself the 
hero, so that his love can express itself in admiration. 

The poet is the genius of memory, and does nothing but 
recall what has been done, can do nothing but admire what 
has been done. He adds nothing of his own, but he is jeal- 
ous of what has been entrusted to him. He obeys the choice 
of his own heart; but once he has found what he has been 
seeking, he visits every man's door with his song and with 
his speech, so that all may admire the hero as he does, and 
be proud of the hero as he is. This is his achievement, his 
humble work, this is his faithful service in the house of the 
hero. If thus, faithful to his love, he battles day and night 
against the guile of oblivion which wishes to lure the hero 
from him, then has he accomplished his task, then is he 
gathered to his hero who loves him as faithfully; for the 
poet is at it were the hero's better self, unsubstantial, to be 
sure, like a mere memory, but also transfigured as is a 
memory. Therefore shall no one be forgotten who has done 
great deeds ; and even if there be delay, even if the cloud of 
misunderstanding obscure the hero from our vision, still 
his lover will come some time ; and the more time has passed, 
the more faithfully will he cleave to him. 

No, no one shall be forgotten who was great in this world. 
But each hero was great in his own way, and each one was 
eminent in proportion to the great things he loved. 
For he who loved himself became great through himself, 
and he who loved others became great through his devotion, 
but he who loved God became greater than all of these. 
Everyone of them shall be remembered, but each one became 

Selections from the Writings of Kierkegaard 127 

great in proportion to his trust. One became great by 
hoping for the possible ; another, by hoping for the eternal ; 
but he who hoped for the impossible, he became greater than 
all of these. Every one shall be remembered ; but each one 
was great in proportion to the power with which he strove. 
For he who strove with the world became great by over- 
coming himself ; but he who strove with God, he became the 
greatest of them all. Thus there have been struggles in 
the world, man against man, one against a thousand; but 
he who struggled with God, he became greatest of them all. 
Thus there was fighting on this earth, and there was he who 
conquered everything by his strength, and there was he who 
conquered God by his weakness. There was he who, trust- 
ing in himself, gained all; and there was he who, trusting 
in his strength sacrificed everything ; but he who believed in 
God was greater than all of these. There was he* who was 
great through his strength, and he who was great through 
his wisdom, and he who was great through his hopes, and he 
who was great through his love ; but Abraham was greater 
than all of these — great through the strength whose power 
is weakness, great through the wisdom whose secret is folly, 
great through the hope whose expression is madness, great 
through the love which is hatred of one's self. 

Through the urging of his faith Abraham left the land 
of his forefathers and became a stranger in the land of 
promise. He left one thing behind and took one thing along : 
he left his worldly wisdom behind and took with him faith. 
For else he would not have left the land of his fathers, but 
would have thought it an unreasonable demand. Through 
his faith he came to be a stranger in the land of promise, 
where there was nothing to remind him of all that had been 
dear to him, but where everything by its newness tempted 
his soul to longing. And yet was he God's chosen, he in 
whom the Lord was well pleased ! Indeed, had he been one 
cast off, one thrust out of God's mercy, then might he have 
comprehended it ; but now it seemed like a mockery of him 
and of his faith. There have been others who lived in exile 
from the fatherland which they loved. They are not for- 
gotten, nor is the song of lament forgotten in which they 

128 University of Texas Bulletin 

mournfully sought and found what they had lost. Of Abra- 
ham there exists no song of lamentation. It is human to 
complain, it is human to weep with the weeping; but it is 
greater to believe, and more blessed to consider him who 
has faith. 

Through his faith Abraham received the promise that in 
his seed were to be blessed all races of mankind. Time 
passed, there was still the possibility of it, and Abraham 
had faith. Another man there was who also lived in hopes. 
Time passed, the evening of his life was approaching; 
neither was he paltry enough to have forgotten his hopes: 
neither shall he be forgotten by us ! Then he sorrowed, and 
his sorrow did not deceive him, as life had done, but gave 
him all it could; for in the sweetness of sorrow he became 
possessed of his disappointed hopes. It is human to sor- 
row, it is human to sorrow with the sorrowing; but it is 
greater to have faith, and more blessed to consider him who 
has faith. 

No song of lamentation has come down to us from Abra- 
ham. He did not sadly count the days as time passed ; he 
did not look at Sarah with suspicious eyes, whether she was 
becoming old ; he did not stop the sun's course lest Sarah 
should grow old and his hope with her; he did not lull her 
with his songs of lamentation. Abraham grew old, and 
Sarah became a laughing-stock to the people; and yet was 
he God's chosen, and heir to the promise that in his seed 
were to be blessed all races of mankind. Were it, then, 
not better if he had not been God's chosen? For what is 
it to be God's chosen? Is it to have denied to one in one's 
youth all the wishes of youth in order to have them fulfilled 
after great labor in old age ? 

But Abraham had faith and steadfastly lived in hope. 
Had Abraham been less firm in his trust, then would he 
have given up that hope. He would have said to God : 
"So it is, perchance, not Thy will, after all, that this shall 
come to pass. I shall surrender my hope. It was my only 
one, it was my bliss. I am sincere, I conceal no secret 
grudge for that Thou didst deny it to me.'* He would not 
have remained forgotten, his example would have saved 

Selections from the Writings of Kierkegaard 129 

many a one; but he would not have become the Father of 
Faith. For it is great to surrender one's hope, but greater 
still to abide by it steadfastly after having surrendered it ; 
for it is great to seize hold of the eternal hope, but greater 
still to abide steadfastly by one's worldly hopes after having 
surrendered them. 

Then came the fulness of time. If Abraham had not had 
faith, then Sarah would probably have died of sorrow, and 
Abraham, dulled by his grief, would not have understood 
the fulfilment, but would have smiled about it as a dream of 
his youth. But Abraham had faith, and therefore he re- 
mained young; for he who always hopes for the best, him 
life will deceive, and he will grow old ; and he who is always 
prepared for the worst, he will soon age; but he who has 
faith, he will preserve eternal youth. Praise, therefore, be 
to this story! For Sarah, though advanced in age, was 
young enough to wish for the pleasures of a mother, and 
Abraham, though grey of hair, was young enough to wish 
to become a father. In a superficial sense it may be con- 
sidered miraculous that what they wished for came to pass, 
but in a deeper sense the miracle of faith is to be seen in 
Abraham's and Sarah's being young enough to wish, and 
their faith having preserved their wish and therewith their 
youth. The promise he had received was fulfilled, and he 
accepted it in faith, and it came to pass according to the 
promise and his faith ; whereas Moses smote the rock with 
his staff but believed not. 

There was joy in Abraham's house when Sarah celebrated 
the day of her Golden Wedding. 

But it was not to remain thus ; for once more was Abra- 
ham to be tempted. He had struggled with that cunning 
power to which nothing is impossible, with that ever watch- 
ful enemy who never sleeps, with that old man who outlives 
all — he had struggled with Time and had preserved his 
faith. And now all the terror of that fight was concentrated 
in one moment. "And God tempted Abraham, saying to 
him : take now thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and 
get thee into the land of Moriah ; and offer him there for a 

130 University of Texas Bulletin 

burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell 
thee of."2 

All was lost, then, and more terribly than if a son had 
never been given him! The Lord had only mocked Abra- 
ham, then ! Miraculously he had realized the unreasonable 
hopes of Abraham; and now he wished to take away what 
he had given, A foolish hope it had been, but Abraham 
had not laughed when the promise had been made him. Now 
all was lost — the trusting hope of seventy years, the brief 
joy at the fulfilment of his hopes. Who, then, is he that 
snatches away the old man's staff, who that demands that 
he himself shall break it in two? Who is he that renders 
disconsolate the grey hair of old age, who is he that demands 
that he himself shall do it? Is there no pity for the ven- 
erable old man, and none for the innocent child? And yet 
was Abraham God's chosen one, and yet was it the Lord 
that tempted him. And now all was to be lost! The glo- 
rious remembrance of him by a whole race, the promise of 
Abraham's seed — all that was but a whim, a passing fancy 
of the Lord, which Abraham was now to destroy forever! 
That glorious treasure, as old as the faith in Abraham's 
heart, and many, many years older than Isaac, the fruit of 
Abraham's life, sanctified by prayers, matured in struggles 
— the blessing on the lips of Abraham : this fruit was now 
to be plucked before the appointed time, and to remain with- 
out significance; for of what significance were it if Isaac 
was to be sacrificed? That sad and yet blessed hour when 
Abraham was to take leave from all that was dear to him, 
the hour when he would once more lift up his venerable 
head, when his face would shine like the countenance of the 
Lord, the hour when he would collect his whole soul for a 
blessing strong enough to render Isaac blessed all the days 
of his life — ^that hour was not to come! He was to say 
farewell to Isaac, to be sure, but in such wise that he him- 
self was to remain behind ; death was to part them, but in 
such wise that Isaac was to die. The old man was not in 
happiness to lay his hand on Isaac's head when the hour 

-'Genesis 20, 11 f. 

Selections from the Writings of Kierkegaard 131 

of death came, but, tired of life, to lay violent hands on 
Isaac. And it was God who tempted him. Woe, woe to the 
messenger who would have come before Abraham with such 
a command ! Who would have dared to be the messenger of 
such dread tidin'gs? But it was God that tempted Abraham. 

But Abraham had faith, and had faith for this life. In- 
deed, had his faith been but concerning the life to come, then 
might he more easily have cast away all, in order to hasten 
out of this world which was not his. . . . 

But Abraham had faith and doubted not, but trusted 
that the improbable would come to pass. If Abraham had 
doubted, then would he have undertaken something else, 
something great and noble; for what could Abraham have 
undertaken but was great and noble ! He would have pro- 
ceeded to Mount Moriah, he would have cloven the wood, 
and fired it, and unsheathed his knife — he would have cried 
out to God : "Despise not this sacrifice ; it is not, indeed, the 
best I have ; for what is an old man against a child foretold 
of God ; but it is the best I can give thee. Let Isaac never 
know that he must find consolation in his youth." He would 
have plunged the steel in his own breast. And he would 
have been admired throughout the world, and his name 
would not have been forgotten; but it is one thing to be 
admired and another, to be a lode-star which guides one 
troubled in mind. 

But Abraham had faith. He prayed not for mercy and 
that he might prevail upon the Lord : it was only when just 
retribution was to be visited upon Sodom and Gomorrha 
that Abraham ventured to beseech Him for mercy. 

We read in Scripture: "And God did tempt Abraham, 
and said unto him, Abraham: and he said. Behold here I 
am."^ You, whom I am now addressing did you do like- 
wise? When you saw the dire dispensations of Providence 
approach threateningly, did you not then say to the moun- 
tains, Fall on me; and to the hills, Cover me?* Or, if you 
were stronger in faith, did not your step linger along the 
way, longing for the old accustomed paths, as it were? And 

^Genesis 22, 1. 
^Luke 23, 30. 

132 University of Texas Bulletin 

when the voice called you, did you answer, then, or not at 
all, and if you did, perchance in a low voice, or whispering? 
Not thus Abraham, but gladly and cheerfully and trust- 
ingly, and with a resonant voice he made answer: "Here 
am I." And we read further : "And Abraham rose up early 
in the morning." ' He made haste as though for some joy- 
ous occasion, and early in the morning he was in the ap- 
pointed place, on Mount Moriah. He said nothing to Sarah, 
nothing to Eliezer, his steward ; for who would have under- 
stood him? Did not his temptation by its very nature de- 
mand of him the vow of silence? "He laid the wood in 
order, and bound Isaac his son, and laid him on the altar 
upon the wood. And Abraham stretched forth his hand, 
and took the knife to slay his son."' My listener! Many 
a father there has been who thought that with his child he 
lost the dearest of all there was in the world for him ; yet 
assuredly no child ever was in that sense a pledge of God as 
was Isaac to Abraham. Many a father there has been who 
lost his child ; but then it was God, the unchangeable and 
inscrutable will of the Almighty and His hand which took 
it. Not thus with Abraham. For him was reserved a more 
severe trial, and Isaac's fate was put into Abraham's hand 
together with the knife. And there he stood, the old man, 
with his only hope! Yet did he not doubt, nor look anx- 
iously to the left or right, nor challenge Heaven with his 
prayers. He knew it was God the Almighty who now put 
him to the test ; he knew it was the greatest sacrifice which 
could be demanded of him ; but he knew also that no sacrifice 
was too great which God demanded — and he drew forth his 

Who strengthened Abraham's arm, who supported his 
right arm that it drooped not powerless ? For he who con- 
templates this scene is unnerved. Who strengthened Abra- 
ham's soul so that his eyes grew not too dim to see either 
Isaac or the ram? For he who contemplates this scene 
will be struck with blindness. And yet, it is rare enough 
that one is unnerved or is struck with blindness, and still 
more rare that one narrates worthily what there did take 

•Genesis 22, 3 and 9. 

Selections from the Writings of Kierkegaard 133 

place between father and son. To be sure, we know well 
enough — it was but a trial! 

If Abraham had doubted, when standing on Mount Mo- 
riah ; if he had looked about him in perplexity ; if he had 
accidentally discovered the ram before drawing his knife; 
if God had permitted him to sacrifice it instead of Isaac — 
then would he have returned home, and all would have been 
as before, he would have had Sarah and would have kept 
Isaac; and yet how different all would have been! For 
then had his return been a flight, his salvation an accident, 
his reward disgrace, his future, perchance, perdition. Then 
would he have borne witness neither to his faith nor to 
God's mercy, but would have witnessed only to the terror 
of going to Mount Moriah. Then Abraham would not have 
been forgotten, nor either Mount Moriah. It would be men- 
tioned, then, not as is Mount Ararat on which the Ark 
landed, but as a sign of terror, because it was there Abra- 
ham doubted. 

Venerable patriarch Abraham ! When you returned home 
from Mount Moriah you required no encomiums to console 
you for what you had lost ; for, indeed, you did win all and 
still kept Isaac, as we all know. And the Lord did no more 
take him from your side, but you sate gladly at table with 
him in your tent as in the life to come you will, for all times. 
Venerable patriarch Abraham! Thousands of years have 
passed since those times, but still you need no late-born lover 
to snatch your memory from the power of oblivion, for every 
language remembers you — and yet do you reward your lover 
more gloriously than any one, rendering him blessed in your 
bosom, and taking heart and eyes captive by the marvel of 
your deed. Venerable patriarch Abraham ! Second father 
of the race! You who first perceived and bore witness to 
that unbounded passion which has but scorn for the terrible 
fight with the raging elements and the strength of brute 
creation, in order to struggle with God; you who first felt 
that sublimest of all passions, you who found the holy, pure, 
humble expression for the divine madness which was a 
marvel to the heathen — forgive him who would speak in 
your praise, in case he did it not fittingly. He spoke humbly. 

134 University of Texas Bulletin 

as if it concerned the desire of his heart; he spoke briefly, 
as is seemly; but he will never forget that you required a 
hundred years to obtain a son of your old age, against all 
expections; that you had to draw the knife before being 
permitted to keep Isaac ; he will never forget that in a hun- 
dred and thirty years you never got farther than to faith. 


An old saying, derived from the world of experience, has 
it that "he who will not work shall not eat."" But, strange 
to say, this does not hold true in the world where it is 
thought applicable; for in the world of matter the law of 
imperfection prevails, and we see, again and again, that he 
also who will not work has bread to eat — indeed, that he who 
sleeps has a greater abundance of it than he who works. 
In the world of matter everything belongs to whosoever 
happens to possess it ; it is thrall to the law of indifference, 
and he who happens to possess the Ring also has the Spirit 
of the Ring at his beck and call, whether now he be Noured- 
din or Aladdin," and he who controls the treasures of this 

«Cf. Thessalonians 3, 10. 

^In Aladdin, Oehlenschlager's famous dramatic poem, Aladdin, "the 
cheerful son of nature," is contrasted with Noureddin, representing 
the gloom of doubt and night. 

Selections from the Writings of Kierkegaard 135 

world, controls them, howsoever he managed to do so. It 
is different in the world of spirit. There, an eternal and 
divine order obtains, there the rain does not fall on the just 
and the unjust alike, nor does the sun shine on the good and 
the evil alike ;^ but there the saying does hold true that he 
who will not work shall not eat, and only he who was troubled 
shall find rest, and only he who descends into the nether 
world shall rescue his beloved, and only he who unsheathes 
his knife shall be given Isaac again. There, he who will 
not work shall not eat, but shall be deceived, as the gods 
deceived Orpheus with an immaterial figure instead of his 
beloved Euridice,'' deceived him because he was love-sick 
and not courageous, deceived him because he was a player 
on the cithara rather than a man. There, it avails not to 
have an Abraham for one's father,^" or to have se\^enteen 
ancestors. But in that world the saying about Israel's mai- 
dens will hold true of him who will not work : he shall bring 
forth wind ;" but he who will work shall give birth to his 
own father. 

There is a kind of learning which would presumptuously 
introduce into the world of spirit the same law of indiffer- 
ence under which the world of matter groans. It is thought 
that to know about great men and great deeds is quite suffi- 
cient, and that other exertion is not necessary. And there- 
fore this learning shall not eat, but shall perish of hunger 
while seeing all things transformed into gold by its touch. 
And what, forsooth, does this learning really know? There 
were many thousands of contemporaries, and countless men 
in after times, who knew all about the triumphs of Miltiades ; 
but there was only one w^hom they rendered sleepless.^^ 
There have existed countless generations that knew by heart, 
word for word, the story of Abraham; but how many has 
it rendered sleepless? 

Now the story of Abraham has the remarkable property 

^Matthew 5, 45. 

^Cf . not the legend but Plato's Symposion. 

lOMatthew 3, 9. 

iilsaiah 26, 18. 

i^Themistocles, that is; see Plutarch, Lives. 

136 University of Texas Bulletin 

of always being glorious, in however limited a sense it is 
understood ; still, here also the point is whether one means 
to labor and exert one's helf . Now people do not care to 
labor and exert themselves, but wish nevertheless to under- 
stand the story. They extol Abraham, but how? By ex- 
pressing the matter in the most general terms and saying : 
"the great thing about him was that he loved God so ardently 
that he was willing to sacrifice to Him his most precious 
possession." That is very true; but "the most precious 
possession" is an indefinite expression. As one's thoughts, 
and one's mouth, run on one assumes, in a very easy fashion, 
the identity of Isaac and "the most precious possession" — 
and meanwhile he who is meditating may smoke his pipe, 
and his audience comfortably stretch out their legs. If the 
rich youth whom Christ met on his way'' had sold all his 
possessions and given all to the poor, we would extol him 
as we extol all which is great — aye, would not understand 
even him without labor ; and yet would he never have become 
an Abraham, notwithstanding his sacrificing the most pre- 
cious possessions he had. That which people generally for- 
get in the story of Abraham is his fear and anxiety ; for as 
regards money, one is not ethically responsible for it, where- 
as for his son a father has the highest and most sacred re- 
sponsibility. However, fear is a dreadful thing for timo- 
rous spirits, so they omit it. And yet they wish to speak 
of Abraham. 

So they keep on speaking, and in the course of their 
speech the two terms Isaac and "the most precious thing" 
are used alternately, and everything is in the best order. 
But now suppose that among the audience there was a man 
who suffered with sleeplessness — and then the most terrible 
and profound, the most tragic, and at the same time the 
most comic, misunderstanding is within the range of pos- 
sibility. That is, suppose this man goes home and wishes 
to do as did Abraham ; for his son is his most precious pos- 
session. If a certain preacher learned of this he would, 
perhaps, go to him, he would gather up all his spiritual dig- 
nity and exclaim: "Thou abominable creature, thou scum 

i^Matthew 19, 16f. 

Selections from the Writings of Kierkegaard 137 

of humanity, what devil possessed thee to wish to murder 
thy son?" And this preacher, who had not felt any par- 
ticular warmth, nor perspired while speaking about Abra- 
ham, this preacher would be astonished himself at the earn- 
est wrath with which he poured forth his thunders against 
that poor wretch ; indeed, he would rejoice over himself, for 
never had he spoken with such power and unction, and he 
would have said to his wife : "I am an orator, the only thing 
I have lacked so far was the occasion. Last Sunday, when 
speaking about Abraham, I did not feel thrilled in the least." 
Now, if this same orator had just a bit of sense to spare, 
I believe he would lose it if the sinner would reply, m a quiet 
and dignified manner : "Why, it was on this very same mat- 
ter you preached, last Sunday!" But however could the 
preacher have entertained such thoughts? Still, such was 
the case, and the preacher's mistake was merely not know- 
ing what he was talking about. Ah, would that some poet 
might see his way clear to prefer such a situation to tho 
stuff and nonsense of which novels and comedies are full! 
For the comic and the tragic here run parallel to infinity. 
The sermon probably was ridiculous enough in itself, but it 
became infinitely ridiculous through the very natural conse- 
quence it had. Or, suppose now the sinner was converted 
by this lecture without daring to raise any objection, and 
this zealous divine now went home elated, glad in the con- 
sciousness of being effective, not only in the pulpit, but 
chiefly, and with irresistible power, as a spiritual guide, 
inspiring his congregation on Sunday, whilst on Monday he 
would place himself like a cherub with flaming sword before 
the man who by his actions tried to give the lie to the old 
saying that "the course of the world follows not the priest's 

If, on the other hand, the sinner were not convinced of 
his error his position would become tragic. He would prob- 
ably be executed, or else sent to the lunatic asylum — at any 
rate, he would become a sufferer in this world; but in an- 
other sense I should think that Abraham rendered him 
happy ; for he who labors, he shall not perish. 

138 University of Texas Bulletin 

Now how shall we explain the contradiction contained in 
that sermon ? Is it due to Abraham's having the reputation 
of being a great man — so that whatever he does is great, 
but if another should undertake to do the same it is a sin, 
a heinous sin ? If this be the case I prefer not to participate 
in such thoughtless laudations. If faith cannot make it a 
sacred thing to wish to sacrifice one's son, then let the same 
judgment be visited on Abraham as on any other man. And 
if we perchance lack the courage to drive our thoughts to 
the logical conclusion and to say that Abraham was a mur- 
derer, then it were better to acquire that courage, rather 
than to waste one's time on undeserved encomiums. The 
fact is, the ethical expression for what Abraham did is that 
he wanted to murder Isaac ; the religious, that he wanted to 
sacrifice him. But precisely in this contradiction is con- 
tained the fear which may well rob one of one's sleep. And 
yet Abraham were not Abraham without this fear. Or, 
again, supposing Abraham did not do what is attributed to 
him, if his action was an entirely different one, based on 
conditions of those times, then let us forget him ; for what 
is the use of calling to mind that past which can no longer 
become a present reality? — Or, the speaker had perhaps for- 
gotten the essential fact that Isaac was the son. For if 
faith is eliminated, having been reduced to a mere nothing, 
then only the brutal fact remains that Abraham wanted to 
murder Isaac — which is easy for everybody to imitate who 
has not the faith — the faith, that is, which renders it most 
difficult for him. . . . 

Love has its priests in the poets, and one hears at times 
a poet's voice which worthily extols it. But not a word does 
one hear of faith. Who is there to speak in honor of that 
passion? Philosophy "goes right on." Theology sits at 
the window with a painted visage and sues for philosophy's 
favor, offering it her charms. It is said to be difficult to 
understand the philosophy of Hegel; but to understand 
Abraham, why, that is an easy matter ! To proceed further 
than Hegel is a wonderful feat, but to proceed further than 

Selections from the Writings of Kierkegaard 139 

Abraham, why, nothing is easier! Personally, I have de- 
voted a considerable amount of time to a study of Hegelian 
philosophy and believe I understand it fairly well ; in fact, 
I am rash enough to say that when, notwithstanding an 
effort, I am not able to understand him in some passages, 
it is because he is not entirely clear about the matter him- 
self. All this intellectual effort I perform easily and nat- 
urally, and it does not cause my head to ache. On the other 
hand, whenever I attempt to think about Abraham I am, 
as it were, overwhelmed. At every moment I am aware of 
the enormous paradox which forms the content of Abra- 
ham's life, at every moment I am repulsed, and my thought, 
notwithstanding its passionate attempts, cannot penetrate 
into it, cannot forge on the breadth of a hair. I strain every 
muscle in order to envisage the problem — and become a 
paralytic in the same moment. 

I am by no means unacquainted with what has been ad- 
mired as great and noble, my soul feels kinship with it, 
being satisfied, in all humility, that it was also my cause 
the hero espoused; and when contemplating his deed I say 
to myself: "jam tua causa agitur."^* I am able to 
identify myself with the hero ; but I cannot do so with 
Abraham, for whenever I have reached his height I fall 
down again, since he confronts me as the paradox. It is 
by no means my intention to maintain that faith is some- 
thing inferior, but, on the contrary, that it is the highest 
of all things ; also that it is dishonest in philosophy to offer 
something else instead, and to pour scorn on faith; but it 
ought to understand its own nature in order to know what 
it can offer. It should take away nothing; least of all, fool 
people out of something as if it were of no value. I am 
not unacquainted with the sufferings and dangers of life, 
but I do not fear them, and cheerfully go forth to meet 
them. . . . But my courage is not, for all that, the courage 
of faith, and is as nothing compared with it. I cannot 
carry out the movement of faith : I cannot close my eyes 
and confidently plunge into the absurd — it is impossible for 
me ; but neither do I boast of it. . . . 

^*Your cause, too, is at stake. 

140 University of Texas Bulletin 

Now I wonder if every one of my contemporaries is really 
able to perform the movements of faith. Unless I am much 
mistaken they are, rather, inclined to be proud of making 
what they perhaps think me unable to do, viz., the imper- 
fect movement. It is repugnant to my soul to do what is 
so often done, to speak inhumanly about great deeds, as if 
a few thousands of years were an immense space of time. 
I prefer to speak about them in a human way and as though 
they had been done but yesterday, to let the great deed itself 
be the distance which either inspires or condemns me. Now 
if I, in the capacity oftragicher o — for a higher flight 
I am unable to take — if I had been summoned to such an 
extraordinary royal progress as was the one to Mount Mo- 
riah, I know very well what I would have done. I would 
not have been craven enough to remain at home; neither 
would I have dawdled on the way ; nor would I have forgot 
my knife — ^just to draw out the end a bit. But I am rather 
sure that I would have been promptly on the spot, with every 
thing in order — in fact, would probably have been there 
before the appointed time, so as to have the business soon 
over with. But I know also what I would have done be- 
sides. In the moment I mounted my horse I would have 
said to myself : "Now all is lost, God demands Isaac, I shall 
sacrific him, and with him all my joy — but for all that, God 
is love and will remain so for me ; for in this world God and 
I cannot speak together, we have no language in common." 

Possibly, one or the other of my contemporaries will be 
stupid enough, and jealous enough of great deeds, to wish 
to persuade himself and me that if I had acted thus I should 
have done something even greater than what Abraham did ; 
for my sublime resignation was (he thinks) by far more 
ideal and poetic than Abraham's literal-minded action. And 
yet this is absolutely not so, for my sublime resignation was 
only a substitute for faith. I could not have made more 
than the infinite movement (of resignation) to find myself 
and again repose in myself. Nor would I have loved Isaac 
as Abraham loved him. The fact that I was resolute enough 
to resign is sufficient to prove my courage in a human sense, 
and the fact that I loved him with my whole heart is the 

Selections from the Writings of Kierkegaard 141 

very presupposition without which my action would be a 
crime; but still I did not love as did Abraham, for else I 
would have hesitated even in the last minute, without, for 
that matter, arriving too late on Mount Moriah. Also, I 
would have spoiled the whole business by my behavior ; for 
if I had had Isaac restored to me I would have been em- 
barrassed. That which was an easy matter for Abraham 
would have been difficult for me, I mean, to rejoice again 
in Isaac ; for he who with all the energy of his soul propj'io 
motu et propriis auspiciis^'' has made the infinite movement 
of resignation and can do no more, he will retain possession 
of Isaac only in his sorrow. 

But what did Abraham? He arrived neither too early 
nor too late. He mounted his ass and rode slowly on his 
way. And all the while he had faith, believing that God 
would not demand Isaac of him, though ready all the while 
to sacrifice him, should it be demanded of him. He believed 
this on the strength of the absurd ; for there was no ques- 
tion of human calculation any longer. And the absurdity 
consisted in God's, who yet made this demand of him, re- 
calling his demand the very next moment. Abraham as- 
cended the mountain and whilst the knife already gleamed 
in his hand he believed — that God would not demand Isaac 
of him. He was, to be sure, surprised at the outcome; but 
by a double movement he had returned at his first state of 
mind and therefore received Isaac back more gladly than 
the first time. . . . 

On this height, then, stands Abraham. The last stage 
he loses sight of is that of infinite resignation. He does 
really proceed further, he arrives at faith. For all these 
caricatures of faith, wretched lukewarm sloth, which thinks : 
"Oh, there is no hurry, it is not necessary to worry before 
the time comes" ; and miserable hopefulness, which says : 
"One cannot know what will happen, there might per- 
haps — ," all these caricatures belong to the sordid view of 
life and have already fallen under the infinite scorn of in- 
finite resignation. 

By his own impulse and on his own responsibility. 

142 University of Texas Bulletin 

Abraham, I am not able to understand; and in a certain 
sense I can learn nothing from him without being struck 
with wonder. They who flatter themselves that by merely 
considering the outcome of Abraham's story they will nec- 
essarily arrive at fajth, only deceive themselves and wish to 
cheat God out of the first movement of faith — it were tanta- 
mount to deriving worldly wisdom from the paradox. But 
who knows, one or the other of them may succeed in doing 
this ; for our times are not satisfied with faith, and not even 
with the miracle of changing water into wine — they "go 
right on" changing wine into water. 

Is it not preferable to remain satisfied with faith, and is 
it not outrageous that every one wishes to "go right on"? 
If people in our times decline to be satisfied with love, as is 
proclaimed from various sides, where will we finally land? 
In worldly shrewdness, in mean calculation, in paltriness 
and baseness, in all that which renders man's divine origin 
doubtful. Were it not better to stand fast in the faith, and 
better that he that standeth take heed lest he fall ;^'' for the 
movement of faith must ever be made by virtue of the ab- 
surd, but, note well, in such wise that one does not lose the 
things of this world but wholly and entirely regains them. 

As far as I am concerned, I am able to describe most ex- 
cellently the movements of faith; but I cannot make them 
myself. When a person wishes to learn how to swim he 
has himself suspended in a swimming-belt and then goes 
through the motions; but that does not mean that he can 
swim. In the same fashion I too can go through the mo- 
tions of faith; but when I am thrown into the water I 
swim; to be sure (for I am not a wader in the shallows), 
but I go through a different set of movements, to-wit, those 
of infinity; whereas faith does the opposite, to-wit, makes 
the movements to regain the finite after having made those 
of infinite resignation. Blessed is he who can make these 
movements, for he performs a marvellous feat, and I shall 
never weary of admiring him, whether now it be Abraham 
himself or the slave in Abraham's house, whether it be a 

'"Cf. I Cor. 10, 12. 

Selections from the Writings of Kierkegaard 143 

professor of philosophy or a poor servant-girl : it is all the 
same to me, for I have regard only to the movements. But 
these movements I watch closely, and I will not be deceived, 
whether by myself or by any one else. The knights of 
infinite resignation are easily recognized, for their gait is 
dancing and bold. But they who possess the jewel of faith 
frequently deceive one because their bearing is curiously 
like that of a class of people heartily despised by infinite 
resignation as well as by faith — the philistines. 

Let me admit frankly that I have not in my experience 
encountered any certain specimen of this type ; but I do not 
refuse to admit that as far as I know, every other person 
may be such a specimen. At the same time I will say that 
I have searched vainly for years. It is the custom of scien- 
tists to travel around the globe to see rivers and mountains, 
new stars, gay-colored birds, misshapen fish, ridiculous 
races of men. They abandon themselves to a bovine stupor 
which gapes at existence and believe they have seen some- 
thing worth while. All this does not interest me ; but if I 
knew where there lived such a knight of faith I would jour- 
ney to him on foot, for that marvel occupies my thoughts 
exclusively. Not a moment would I leave him out of sight, 
but would watch how he makes the movements, and I would 
consider myself provided for life, and would divide my time 
between watching him and myself practicing the move- 
ments, and would thus use all my time in admiring him. 

As I said, I have not met with such a one; but I can 
easily imagine him. Here he is. I make his acquaintance 
and am introduced to him. The first moment I lay my eyes 
en him I push him back, leaping back myself, I hold up my 
hands in amazement and say to myself: "Good Lord! that 
person? Is it really he — why, he looks like a parish-beadle!" 
But it is really he. I become more closely acquainted with 
him, watching his every movement to see whether some 
trifling incongruous movement of his has escaped me, some 
trace, perchance, of a signalling from the infinite, a glance, 
a look, a gesture, a melancholy air, or a smile, which might 
betray the presence of infinite resignation contrasting with 
the finite. 

144 University of Texas Bulletin 

But no ! I examine his figure from top to toe to discover 
whether there be anywhere a chink through which the in- 
finite might be seen to peer forth. But no ! he is of a piece, 
all through. And how about his footing? Vigorous, al- 
together that of finiteness, no citizen dressed in his very 
best, prepared to spend his Sunday afternoon in the park, 
treads the ground more firmly. He belongs altogether to 
this world, no philistine more so. There is no trace of the 
somewhat exclusive and haughty demeanor which marks off 
the knight of infinite resignation. He takes pleasure in all 
things, is interested in everything, and perseveres in what- 
ever he does with the zest characteristic of persons wholly 
given to worldly things. He attends to his business, and 
when one sees him one might think he was a clerk who had 
lost his soul in doing double bookkeeping, he is so exact. 
He takes a day oft" on Sundays. He goes to church. But no 
hint of anything supernatural or any other sign of the in- 
commensurable betrays him, and if one did not know him 
it would be impossible to distinguish him in the congrega- 
tion, for his brisk and manly singing proves only that he 
has a pair of good lungs. 

In the afternoon he walks out to the forest. He takes 
delight in all he sees, in the crowds of men and women, the 
new omnibusses, the Sound — if one met him on the prome- 
nade one might think he was some shopkeeper who was 
having a good time, so simple is his joy ; for he is not a poet, 
and in vain have I tried to lure him into betraying some 
sign of the poet's detachment. Toward evening he walks 
home again, with a gait as steady as that of a mail-carrier. 
On his way he happens to wonder whether his wife will have 
some little special warm dish ready for him, when he comes 
home — as she surely has — as, for instance, a roasted lamb's 
head garnished with greens. And if he met one minded 
like him he is very likely to continue talking about this dish 
with him till they reach the East Gate, and to talk about it 
v;ith a zest befitting a chef. As it happens, he has not four 
shillings to spare, and yet he firmly believes that his wife 
surely has that dish ready for him. If she has, it would be 
an enviable sight for distinguished people, and an inspiring 

Selections from the Writings of Kierkegaard 145 

one for common folks, to see him eat, for he has an appetite 
greater than Esau's. His wife has not prepared it — 
strange, he remains altogether the same. 

Again, on his way he passes a building lot and there 
meets another man. They fall to talking, and in a trice he 
erects a building, freely disposing of everything necessary. 
And the stranger will leave him with the impression that 
he has been talking with a capitalist — the fact being that 
the knight of my admiration is busy with the thought that if 
it really came to the point he would unquestionably have the 
means wherewithal at his disposal. 

Now he is lying on his elbows in the window and looking 
over the square on which he lives. All that happens there, 
if it be only a rat creeping into a gutter-hole, or children 
playing together — everything engages his attention, and 
yet his mind is at rest as though it were the mind of a girl 
of sixteen. He smokes his pipe in the evening, and to look 
at him you would swear it was the green-grocer from across 
the street who is lounging at the window in the evening twi- 
light. Thus he shows as much unconcern as any worthless 
happy-go-lucky fellow; and yet, every moment he lives he 
purchases his leisure at the highest price, for he makes not 
the least movement except by virtue of the absurd ; and yet, 
yet — indeed, I might become furious with anger, if for no 
other reason than that of en\^ — and yet, this man has per- 
formed, and is performing every moment, the movement of 
infinity . . . He has resigned everything absolutely, and then 
again seized hold of it all on the strength of the absurd. . . 

But this miracle may so easily deceive one that it will be 
best if I describe the movements in a given case which may 
illustrate their aspect in contact with reality; and that is 
the important point. Suppose, then, a young swain falls in 
love with a princess, and all his life is bound up in this love. 
But circumstances are such that it is out of the question to 
think of marrying her, an impossibility to translate his 
dreams into reality. The slaves of paltriness, the frogs in 
the sloughs of life, they will shout, of course : "Such a love 
is folly, the rich brewer's widow is quite as good and solid 
a match." Let them but croak. The knight of infinite 

146 University of Texas Bulletin 

resignation does not follow their advice, he does not sur- 
render his love, not for all the riches in the world. He is 
no fool, he first makes sure that this love really is the con- 
tents of his life, for his soul is too sound and too proud to 
waste itself on a mere intoxication. He is no coward, he is 
not afraid to let his love insinuate itself into his most secret 
and most remote thoughts, to let it wind itself in innumer- 
able coils about every fiber of his consciousness — if he is 
disappointed in his love he will never be able to extricate 
himself again. He feels a delicious pleasure in letting love 
thrill his every nerve, and yet his soul is solemn as is that 
of him who has drained a cup of poison and who now feels 
the virus mingle with every drop of his blood, poised in 
that moment between life and death. 

Having thus imbibed love, and being wholly absorbed in 
it, he does not lack the courage to try and dare all. He 
surveys the whole situation, he calls together his swift 
thoughts which like tame pigeons obey his every beck, he 
gives the signal, and they dart in all directions. But whien 
they return, every one bearing a message of sorrow, and 
explain to him that it is impossible, then he becomes silent, 
he dismisses them, he remains alone ; and then he makes the 
movement. Now if what I say here is to have any signifi- 
cance, it is of prime importance that the movement be made 
in a normal fashion. The knight of resignation is supposed 
to have sufl^icient energy to concentrate the entire contents 
of his life and the realization of existing conditions into 
one single wish. But if one lacks this concentration, this 
devotion to a single thought ; if his soul from the very be- 
ginning is scattered on a number of objects, he will never 
be able to make the movement — he will be as worldly-wise in 
the conduct of his life as the financier who invests his cap- 
ital in a number of securities to win on the one if he should 
lose on the other ; that is, he is no knight. Furthermore, the 
knight is supposed to possess sufficient energy to concen- 
trate all his thought into a single act of consciousness. If 
he lacks this concentration he will only run errands in life 
and will never be able to assume the attitude of infinite 
resignation; for the very minute he approaches it he will 

Selections from the Writings of Kierkegaard 147 

suddenly discover that he forgot something so that he must 
remain behind. The next minute, thinks he, it will be at- 
tainable again, and so it is; but such inhibitions will never 
allow him to make the movement but will, rather, tend to 
let him sink ever deeper into the mire. 

Our knight, then, performs the movement — which move- 
ment? Is he intent on forgetting the whole affair, which, 
too, would presuppose much concentration? No, for the 
knight does not contradict himself, and it is a contradiction 
to forget the main contents of one's life and still remain the 
same person. And he has no desire to become another per- 
son; neither does he consider such a desire to smack of 
greatness. Only lower natures forget themselves and be- 
come something different. Thus the butterfly has forgotten 
that it once was a caterpillar — who knows but it may forget 
altogether that it once was a butterfly, and turn into a fish ! 
Deeper natures never forget themselves and never change 
their essential qualities. So the knight remembers all ; but 
precisely this remembrance is painful. Nevertheless, in his 
infinite resignation he has become reconciled with existence. 
His love for the princess has become for him the expression 
of an eternal love, has assumed a religious character, has 
been transfigured into a love for the eternal being which, 
to be sure, denied him the fulfilment of his love, yet recon- 
ciled him again by presenting him with the abiding 
consciousness of his love's being preserved in an everlasting 
form of which no reality can rob him. . . . 

Now, he is no longer interested in what the princess may 
do, and precisely this proves that he has made the movement 
of infinite resignation correctly. In fact, this is a good 
criterion for detecting whether a person's movement is sin- 
cere or just make-believe. Take a person who believes that 
he too has resigned, but lo! time passed, the princess did 
something on her part, for example, married a prince, and 
then his soul lost the elasticity of its resignation. This 
ought to show him that he did not make the movement cor- 
rectly, for he who has resigned absolutely is sufficient unto 
himself. The knight does not cancel his resignation, but 
preserves his love as fresh and young as it was at the first 

148 University of Texas Bulletin 

moment, he never lets go of it just because his resignation 
is absolute. Whatever the princess does, cannot disturb 
him, for it is only the lower natures who have the law for 
their actions in some other person, i.e. have the premises of 
their actions outside of themselves. . . . 

Infinite resignation is the last stage which goes before 
faith, so that every one who has not made the movement of 
infinite resignation cannot have faith ; for only through ab- 
solute resignation do I become conscious of my eternal 
worth, and only then can there arise the problem of again 
grasping hold of this world by virtue of faith. 

We will now suppose the knight of faith in the same 
case. He does precisely as the other knight, he absolutely 
resigns the love which is the contents of his life, he is recon- 
ciled to the pain ; but then the miraculous happens, he makes 
one more movement, strange beyond comparison, saying: 
"And still I believe that I shall marry her — marry her by 
virtue of the absurd, by virtue of the act that to God nothing 
is impossible." Now the absurd is not one of the categories 
which belong to the understanding proper. It is not iden- 
tical with the improbable, the unforeseen, the unexpected. 
The very moment our knight resigned himself he made sure 
of the absolute impossibility, in any human sense, of his 
love. This was the result reached by his reflections, and 
he had sufficient energy to make them. In a transcendent 
sense, however, by his very resignation, the attainment of 
his end is not impossible ; but this very act of again taking 
possession of his love is at the same time a relinquishment 
of it. Nevertheless this kind of possession is by no means 
an absurdity to the intellect; for the intellect all the while 
continues to be right, as it is aware that in the world 
of finalities, in which reason rules, his love was and is, an 
impossibility. The knight of faith realizes this fully as 
well. Hence the only thing which can save him is recourse 
to the absurd, and this recourse he has through his faith. 
That is, he clearly recognizes the impossibility, and in the 
same moment he believes the absurd ; for if he imagined he 
had faith, without at the same time recognizing, with all the 
passion his soul is capable of, that his love is impossible, 

Selections from the Writings of Kierkegaard 149 

he would be merely deceiving himself, and his testimony- 
would be of no value, since he had not arrived even at the 
stage of absolute resignation. . . . 

This last movement, the paradoxical movement of faith, 
I cannot make, whether or no it be my duty, although I 
desire nothing more ardently than to be able to make it. 
It must be left to a person's discretion whether he cares to 
make this confession ; and at any rate, it is a matter between 
him and the Eternal Being, who is the object of his faith, 
whether an amicable adjustment can be affected. But what 
every person can do is to make the movement of absolute 
resignation, and I for my part would not hesitate to declare 
him a coward who imagines he cannot perform it. It is a 
different matter with faith. But what no person has a right 
to, is to delude others into the belief that faith is something 
of no great significance, or that it is an easy matter, whereas 
it is the greatest and most difficult of all things. 

But the story of Abraham is generally interpreted in a 
different way. God's mercy is praised which restored Isaac 
to him — it was but a trial I A trial. This word may mean 
much or little, and yet the whole of it passes off as quickly 
as the story is told : one mounts a winged horse, in the same 
instant one arrives on Mount Moriah, and presto one sees 
the ram. It is not remembered that Abraham only rode on 
an ass which travels but slowly, that it was a three days' 
journey for him, and that he required some additional time 
to collect the firewood, to bind Isaac, and to whet his knife. 

And yet one extols Abraham. He who is to preach the 
sermon may sleep comfortably until a quarter of an hour 
before he is to preach it, and the listener may comfortably 
sleep during the sermon, for everything is made easy enough, 
without much exertion either to preacher or listener. But 
now suppose a man was present who suffered with sleep- 
lessness and who went home and sat in a corner and re- 
flected as follows : "The whole lasted but a minute, you need 
only wait a little while, and then the ram will be shown and 
the trial will be over." Now if the preacher should find 
him in this frame of mind, I believe he would confront him 
in all his dignity and say to him: "Wretch that thou art, 

150 University of Texas Bulletin 

to let thy soul lapse into such folly ; miracles do not happen, 
all life is a trial." And as he proceeded he would grow 
more and more passionate, and would become ever more 
satisfied with himself; and whereas he had not noticed any 
congestion in his head whilst preaching about Abraham, he 
now feels the veins on his forehead swell. Yet who knows 
but he would stand aghast if the sinner should answer him 
in a quiet and dignified manner that it was precisely this 
about which he preached the Sunday before. 

Let us then either waive the whole story of Abraham, 
or else learn to stand in awe of the enormous paradox which 
constitutes his significance for us, so that we may learn to 
understand that our age, like every age, may rejoice if it 
has faith. If the story of Abraham is not a mere nothing, 
an illusion, or if it is just used for show and as a pastime, 
the mistake cannot by any means be in the sinner's wishing 
to do likewise ; but it is necessary to find out how great was 
the deed which Abraham performed, in order that the man 
may judge for himself whether he has the courage and the 
mission to do likewise. The comical contradiction in the 
procedure of the preacher was his reduction of the story of 
Abraham to insignificance whereas he rebuked the other 
man for doing the very same thing. 

But should we then cease to speak about Abraham? I 
certainly think not. But if I were to speak about him I 
would first of all describe the terrors of his trial. To that 
end leechlike I would suck all the suffering and distress out 
of the anguish of a father, in order to be able to describe 
what Abraham suffered whilst yet preserving his faith. I 
would remind the hearer that the journey lasted three days 
and a goodly part of the fourth — in fact, these three and a 
half days ought to become infinitely longer than the few 
thousand years which separate me from Abraham. I would 
remind him, as I think right, that every person is still per- 
mitted to turn about before trying his strength on this 
formidable task; in fact, that he may return every instant 
in repentence. Provided this is done, I fear for nothing. 
Nor do I fear to awaken great desire among people to at- 
tempt to emulate Abraham. But to get out a cheap edition 

Selections from the Writings of Kierkegaard 151 

of Abraham and yet forbid every one to do as he did, that 
I call ridiculous." 

' "The above, with the omissions indicated, constitutes about one-third 
of "Fear and Trembling." 


11, 28.) 


"Come hither!" — It is not at all strange if he who 
is in danger and needs help — speedy, immediate help, per- 
haps — it is not strange if he cries out : "come hither" ! 
Nor it is strange that a quack cries his wares : "come hither, 
I cure all maladies" ; alas, for in the case of the quack it is 
only too true that it is the physician who has need of the 
sick. "Come hither all ye who at extortionate prices can 
pay for the cure — or at any rate for the medicine ; here is 
physic for everybody — who can pay; come hither!" 

In all other cases, however, it is generally true that he 
who can help must be sought; and, when found, may be 
difficult of access; and, if access is had, his help may have 
to be implored a long time ; and when his help has been im- 
plored a long time, he may be moved only with difficulty, 
that is, he sets a high price on his services ; and sometimes, 
precisely when he refuses payment or generously asks for 
none, it is only an expression of how infinitely high he 
values his services. On the other hand, he- who sacrificed 
himself, he sacrifices himself, here too ; it is indeed he who 
seeks those in need of help, is himself the one who goes 
about and calls, almost imploringly: "come hither!" He, 
the only one who can help, and help with what alone is in- 
dispensable, and can save from the one truly mortal disease. 

'First Part; comprising about one-fourth of the whole book. 

-I. e. Christ; cf. Introduction p. 41 for the use of small letters. 

Selections from the Writings of Kierkegaard 153 

he does not wait for people to come to him, but comes him- 
self, without having been called ; for it is he who calls out 
to them, it is he who holds out help — and what help! In- 
deed, that simple sage of antiquity^ was as infinitely right 
as the majority who do the opposite are wrong, in setting 
no great price, whether on himself or his instruction ; even 
if he thus in a certain sense proudly expressed the utter dif- 
ference in kind between payment and his services. But he 
was not so solicitous as to beg any one to come to him, 
notwithstanding — or shall I say because? — he was not alto- 
gether sure what his help signified; for the more sure one 
is that his help is the only one obtainable, the more reason 
has he, in a human sense, to ask a great price for it ; and the 
less sure one is, the more reason has he to oflfer freely the 
possible help he has, in order to do at least something for 
others. But he who calls himself the Savior, and knows 
that he is, he calls out solicitously : "come hither unto me I" 

"Come hither all ye !" — Strange ! For if he who, 
when it comes to the point, perhaps cannot help a single one 
— if such a one should boastfully invite everybody, that 
would not seem so very strange, man's nature being such 
as it is. But if a man is absolutely sure of being able to 
help, and at the same time willing to help, willing to devote 
his all in doing so, and with all sacrifices, then he generally 
makes at least one reservation ; which is, to make a choice 
among those he means to help. That is, however willing 
one may be, still it is not everybody one cares to help ; one 
does not care to sacrifice one's self to that extent. But he, 
the only one who can really help, and really help everybody 
— the only one, therefore, who really can invite everybody — 
he makes no conditions whatever ; but utters the invitation 
which, from the beginning of the world, seems to have been 
reserved for him: "Come hither all ye!" Ah, human self- 
sacrifice, even when thou art most beautiful and noble, 


154 University of Texas Bulletin 

when we admire thee most : this is a sacrifice still greater, 
which is, to sacrifice every provision for one's own self, so 
that in one's willingness to help there is not even the least 
partiality. Ah, the love that sets no price on one's self, 
that makes one forget altogether that he is the helper, and 
makes one altogether blind as to who it is one helps, but 
infinitely careful only that he be a sufferer, whatever else 
he may be ; and thus willing unconditionally to help every- 
body — different, alas! in this from everybody! 

"Come hither unto me!" Strange ! For human com- 
passion also, and willingly, does something for them that 
labor and are heavy laden; one feeds the hungry, clothes 
the naked, makes charitable gifts, builds charitable insti- 
tutions, and if the compassion be heartfelt, perhaps even 
visits those that labor and are heavy laden. But to invite 
them to come to one, that will never do, because then all 
one's household and manner of living would have to be 
changed. For a man cannot himself live in abundance, 
or at any rate in well-being and happiness, and at the same 
time dwell in one and the same house together with, and in 
daily intercourse with, the poor and miserable, with them 
that labor and are heavy laden ! In order to be able to 
invite them in such wise, a man must himself live altogether 
in the same way, as poor as the poorest, as lowly as the 
lowliest, familiar with the sorrows and sufferings of life, 
and altogether belonging to the same station as they whom 
he invites, that is, they who labor and are heavy laden. 
If he wishes to invite a sufferer, he must either change 
his own condition to be like that of the sufferer, or else 
change that of the sufferer to be like his own ; for if this is 
not done the difference will stand out only the more by con- 
trast. And if you wish to invite all those who suffer — for 
you may make an exception with one of them and change 
his condition — it can be done only in one way, which is, 
to change your condition so as to live as they do ; provided 
your life be not already lived thus, as was the case with Kim 
who said : "Come hither unto me, all ye that labor and are 
heavy laden !" Thus said he ; and they who lived with him 
saw him, and behold! there was not even the least thing 

Selections from the Writings of Kierkegaard 155 

in his manner of life to contradict it. With the silent and 
truthful eloquence of actual performance his life expresses 
— even though he had never in his life said these words — 
his life expresses: "Come hither unto me, all ye that labor 
and are heavy laden" ! He abides by his word, or he him- 
self is the word ; he is what he says, and also in this sense 
he is the Word.* 

"All ye that labor and are heavy lade n." 
Strange ! His only concern is lest there be a single one who 
labors and is hea\^^ laden who does not hear this invitation. 
Neither does he fear that too many will come. Ah, heart- 
room makes house-room; but where wilt thou find heart- 
room, if not in his heart? He leaves it to each one how to 
understand his invitation: he has a clear conscience about 
it, for he has invited all those that labor and are heavy 

But what means it, then, to labor and be heavy laden? 
Why does he not offer a clearer explanation so that one may 
know exactly whom he means, and why is he so chary of his 
words? Ah, thou narrow-minded one, he is so chary of his 
words, lest he be narrow-minded ; and thou narrow-hearted 
one, he is so chary of his words lest he be narrow-hearted. 
For such is his love — and love has regard to all — as to pre- 
vent any one from troubling and searching his heart 
whether he too be among those invited. And he who would 
insist on a more definite explanation, is he not likely to be 
some self-loving person who is calculating whether this 
explanation does not particularly fit himself; one who does 
not consider that the more of such exact explanations are 
offered, the more certainly some few would be left in doubt 
as to whether they were invited? Ah man, why does thine 
eye see only thyself, why is it evil because he is good ?** The 
invitation to all men opens the arms of him who invites, and 
thus he stands of aspect everlasting; but no sooner is a 

*John I, 1. 
*aMatthew 20, 15. 

156 University of Texas Bulletin 

closer explanation attempted which might help one or the 
other to another kind of certainty, than his aspect would 
be transformed and, as it were, a shadow of change would 
pass over his countenance. 

" I will give you res t." Strange ! For then the 
words "come hither unto me" must be understood to mean : 
stay with me, I am rest; or, it is rest to remain with me. 
It is not, then, as in other cases where he who helps and says 
"come hither" must afterwards say: "now depart again," 
explaining to each one where the help he needs is to be 
found, where the healing herb grows which will cure him, 
or where the quiet spot is found where he may rest from 
labor, or where the happier continent exists where one is 
not heavy laden. But no, he who opens his arms, inviting 
every one — ah, if all, all they that labor and are heavy laden 
came to him, he would fold them all to his heart, saying: 
"stay with me now ; for to stay with me is rest." The helper 
himself is the help. Ah, strange, he who invites everybody 
and wishes to help everybody, his manner of treating the 
sick is as if calculated for every sick man, and as if every 
sick man who comes to him were his only patient. For 
otherwise a physician divides his time among many patients 
who, however great their number, still are far, far from 
being all mankind. He will prescribe the medicine, he will 
say what is to be done, and how it is to be used, and then he 
will go — to some other patient ; or, in case the patient should 
visit him, he will let him depart. The physician cannot re- 
main sitting all day with one patient, and still less can he 
have all his patients about him' in his home, and yet sit all 
day with one patient without neglecting the others. For 
this reason the helper and his help are not one and the same 
thing. The help which the physician prescribes is kept 
with him by the patient all day so that he may constantly 
use it, whilst the physician visits him now and again ; or he 
visits the physician now and again. But if the helper is 
also the help, why, then he will stay with the sick man all 
day, or the sick man with him — ah, strange that it is just 
this helper who invites all men ! 

Selections from the Writings of Kierkegaard 157 


What enormous multiplicity, what an almost boundless 
diversity, of people invited; for a man, a lowly man, may, 
indeed, try to enumerate only a few of these diversities — 
but he who invites must invite all men, even if every one 
specially and individually. 

The invitation goes forth, then — along the highways and 
the byways, and along the loneliest paths; aye, goes forth 
where there is a path so lonely that one man only, and no 
one else, knows of it, and goes forth where there is but one 
track, the track of the wretched one who fled along that path 
with his misery, that and no other track; goes forth even 
where there is no path to show how one may return: even 
there the invitation penetrates and by itself easily and surely 
finds its way back — most easily, indeed, when it brings the 
fugitive along to him that issued the invitation. Come 
hither, come hither all ye, also thou, and thou, and thou, 
too, thou loneliest of all fugitives ! 

Thus the invitation goes forth and remains standing, 
wheresoever there is a parting of the ways, in order to call 
out. Ah, just as the trumpet call of the soldiers is di- 
rected to the four quarters of the globe, likewise does this 
invitation sound wherever there is a meeting of roads ; with 
no uncertain sound — for who would then come? — ^but with 
the certitude of eternity. 

It stands by the parting of the ways where worldly and 
earthly sufferings have set down their crosses, and calls 
out : Come hither, all ye poor and wretched ones, ye who in 
poverty must slave in order to assure yourselves, not of a 
care-free, but of a toilsome, future ; ah, bitter contradiction, 
to have to slave for — a s s u r i n g one's self of that under 
which one groans, of that which one flees! Ye despised 
and overlooked ones, about whose existence no one, aye, no 
one is concerned, not so much even as about some domestic 

158 University of Texas Bulletin 

animal which is of greater value! Ye sick, and halt, and 
blind, and deaf, and crippled, come hither! — Ye bed-ridden, 
aye, come hither, ye too; for the invitation makes bold to 
invite even the bed-ridden — to come! Ye lepers; for the 
invitation breaks down all differences in order to unite all, 
it wishes to make good the hardship caused by the difference 
in men, the difference which seats one as a ruler over mil- 
lions, in possession of all gifts of fortune, and drives another 
one out into the wilderness — and why? (ah, the cruelty 
of it!) because (ah, the cruel human inference!) because 
he is wretched, indescribably wretched. Why then? Be- 
cause he stands in need of help, or at any rate, of compas- 
sion. And why, then? Because human compassion is a 
wretched thing which is cruel when there is the greatest 
need of being compassionate, and compassionate only when, 
at bottom, it is not true compassion ! Ye sick of heart, ye 
who only through your anguish learned to know that a 
man's heart and an animal's heart are two different things, 
and what it means to be sick at heart — what it means when 
the physician may be right in declaring one sound of heart 
and yet heart-sick; ye whom faithlessness deceived and 
whom human sympathy — for the sympathy of man is rarely 
late in coming — whom human sympathy made a target for 
mockery; all ye wronged and aggrieved and ill-used; all ye 
noble ones who, as any and everybody will be able to tell 
you, deservedly reap the reward of ingratitude (for why 
were ye simple enough to be noble, why foolish enough to 
be kindly, and disinterested, and faithful) — all ye victims 
of cunning, of deceit, of backbiting, of envy, whom base- 
ness chose as its victim and cowardice left in the lurch, 
whether now ye be sacrificed in remote and lonely places, 
after having crept away in order to die, or whether ye be 
trampled underfoot in the thronging crowds where no one 
asks what rights ye have, and no one, what wrongs ye suf- 
fer, and no one, where ye smart or how ye smart, whilst the 
crowd with brute force tramples you into the dust — come 
ye hither! 

The invitation stands at the parting of the ways, where 
death parts death and life. Come hither all ye that sorrow 

Selections from the Writings of Kierkegaard 159 

and ye that vainly labor! For indeed there is rest in the 
grave ; but to sit by a grave, or to stand by a grave, or to 
visit a grave, all that is far from lying in the grave ; and to 
read to one's self again and again one's own words which 
one knows by heart, the epitaph which one devised one's 
self and understands best, namely, who it is that lies buried 
here, all that is not the same as to lie buried one's self. 
In the grave there is rest, but by the grave there is no 
rest ; for it is said : so far and no farther, and so you may as 
well go home again. But however often, whether in your 
thoughts or in fact, you return to that grave — you will 
never get any farther, you will not get away from the spot, 
and this is very trying and is by no means rest. Come ye 
hither, therefore: here is the way by which one may go 
farther, here is rest by the grave, rest from the sorrow over 
loss, or rest in the sorrow of loss — through him who ever- 
lastingly re-unites those that are parted, and more firmly 
than nature unites parents with their children, and children 
with their parents — for, alas! they were parted; and more 
closely than the minister unites husband and wife — for, 
alas ! their separation did come to pass ; and more indissol- 
ubly than the bond of friendship unites friend with friend 
— for, alas! it was broken. Separation penetrated every- 
where and brought with it sorrow and unrest; but here is 
rest! — Come hither also ye who had your abodes assigned 
to you among the graves, ye who are considered dead to 
human society, but neither missed nor mourned — not buried 
and yet dead ; that is, belonging neither to life nor to death ; 
ye, alas ! to whom human society cruelly closed its doors and 
for whom no grave has as yet opened itself in pity — come 
hither, ye also, here is rest, and here is life! 

The invitation stands at the parting of the ways, where 
the road of sin turns away from the inclosure of innocence 
— ah, come hither, ye are so close to him ; but a single 
step in the opposite direction, and ye are infinitely far from 
him. Very possibly ye do not yet stand in need of rest, 
nor grasp fully what that means ; but still follow the invi- 
tation, so that he who invites may save you from a predica- 
ment out of which it is so difficult and dangerous to be saved ; 

160 University of Texas Bulletin 

and so that, being saved, ye may stay with him who is the 
Savior of all, likewise of innocence. For even if it were 
possible that innocence be found somewhere, and altogether 
pure: why should not innocence also need a savior to keep 
it safe from evil? — The invitation stands at the parting of 
the ways, where the road of sin turns away to enter more 
deeply into sin. Come hither all ye who have strayed and 
have been lost, whatever may have been your error and sin : 
whether one more pardonable in the sight of man and nev- 
ertheless perhaps more frightful, or one more terrible in 
the sight of man and yet, perchance, more pardonable; 
whether it be one which became known here on earth or 
one which, though hidden, yet is known in heaven — and 
even if ye found pardon here on earth without finding rest 
in your souls, or found no pardon because ye did not seek 
it, or because ye sought it in vain : ah, return and come 
hither, here is rest! 

The invitation stands at the parting of the ways, where 
the road of sin turns away for the last time and to the eye 
is lost in perdition. Ah, return, return, and come hither! 
Do not shrink from the difficulties of the retreat, however 
great; do not fear the irksome way of conversion, how- 
ever laboriously it may lead to salvation ; whereas sin with 
winged speed and growing pace leads forward or — down- 
ward, so easily, so indescribably easy — as easily, in fact, 
as when a horse, altogether freed from having to pull, can- 
not even with all his might stop the vehicle which pushes 
him into the abyss. Do not despair over each relapse which 
the God of patience has patience enough to pardon, and 
which a sinner should surely have patience enough to hum- 
ble himself under. Nay, fear nothing and despair not: 
he that sayeth "come hither," he is with you on the way, 
from him come help and pardon on that way of conversion 
which leads to him; and with him is rest. 

Come hither all, all ye — ^with him is rest; and he will 
raise no difficulties, he does but one thing: he opens his 
arms. He will not first ask you, you sufferer — as righteous 
men, alas, are accustomed to, even when willing to help — 
"Are you not perhaps yourself the cause of your misfor- 

Selections from the Writings of Kierkegaard 161 

tune, have you nothing with which to reproach yourself?" 
It is so easy to fall into this very human error, and from 
appearances to judge a man's success or failure: for in- 
stance, if a man is a cripple, or deformed, or has an un- 
prepossessing appearance, to infer that therefore he is a 
bad man; or, when a man is unfortunate enough to suffer 
reverses so as to be ruined or so as to go down in the world, 
to infer that therefore he is a vicious man. Ah, and this 
is such an exquisitely cruel pleasure, this being conscious 
of one's own righteousness as against the sufferer — explain- 
ing his afflictions as God's punishment, so that one does not 
even — dare to help him ; or asking him that question which 
condemns him and flatters our own righteousness, before 
helping him. But he will not ask you thus, will not in such 
cruel fashion be your benefactor. And if you are yourself 
conscious of your sin he will not ask about it, will not break 
still further the bent reed, but raise you up, if you will but 
join him. He will not point you out by way of contrast, 
and place you outside of Himself , so that your sin will stand 
out as still more terriblie;'^ but he will grant you a hiding 
place within him ; and hftWen within him your sins will be 
hidden. For he is the friend of sinners. Let him but be- 
hold a sinner, and he not only stands still, opening his arms 
and saying "come hither," nay, but he stands — and waits, 
as did the father of the prodigal son ; or he does not merely 
remain standing and waiting, but goes out to search, as the 
shepherd went forth to search for the strayed sheep, or as 
the woman went to search for the lost piece of silver. He 
goes — nay. he has gone, but an infinitely longer way than 
any shepherd or any woman, for did he not go the infinitely 
long way from being God to becoming man, which he did 
to seek sinners? 



"Come hither!" For he supposes that they that 

162 University of Texas Bulletin 

labor and are heavy laden feel their burden and their labor, 
and that they stand there now, perplexed and sighing — one 
casting about with his eyes to discover whether there is 
help in sight anywhere; another with his eyes fixed on the 
ground, because he can see no consolation ; and a third with 
his eyes staring heavenward, as though help was bound 
to come from heaven — but all seeking. Therefore he say- 
eth : "come hither !" But he invites not him who has ceased 
to seek and to sorrow. — "C ome hither!" For he who 
invites knows that it is a mark of true suffering, if one 
walks alone and broods in silent disconsolateness, without 
courage to confide in any one, and with even less self-confi- 
dence to dare to hope for help. Alas, not only he whom 
we read about was possessed of a dumb devil. ^' No suf- 
fering which does not first of all render the sufferer 
dumb is of much significance, no more than the love 
which does not render one silent; for those sufferers 
who run on about their afflictions neither labor nor are 
heavy laden. Behold, therefore the inviter will not wait 
till they that labor and are heavy laden come to him, but 
calls them lovingly; for all his willingness to help might, 
perhaps, be of no avail if he did not say these words and 
thereby take the first step; for in the call of these words: 
"come hither unto me!" he comes himself to them. Ah, 
human compassion — sometimes, perhaps, it is indeed praise- 
worthy self-restraint, sometimes, perhaps, even true com- 
passion, which may cause you to refrain from questioning 
him whom you suppose to be brooding over a hidden afflic- 
tion; but also, how often indeed is this compassion but 
worldly wisdom which does not care to know too much! 
Ah, human 'compassion — how often was it not pure curi- 
osity, and not compassion, which prompted you to venture 
into the secret of one afflicted ; and how burdensome it was 
— almost like a punishment of your curiosity — when he ac- 
cepted your invitation and came to you 1 But he who sayeth 
these redeeming words "Come hither!" he is not deceiving 
himself in saying these words, nor will he deceive you when 

•■Luke 11, 14. 

Selections from the Writings of Kierkegaard 163 

you come to him in order to find rest by throwing your 
burden on him. He follows the promptings of his heart in 
saying these words, and his heart follows his words; if 
you then follow these words, they will follow you back again 
to his heart. This follows as a matter of course — ah, will 
you not follow the invitation ? — "C ome hither!" For 
he supposes that they that labor and are heavy laden are so 
worn out and overtaxed, and so near swooning that they 
have forgotten, as though in a stupor, that there is such 
a thing as consolation. Alas, or he knows for sure that 
there is no consolation and no help unless it is sought from 
him ; and therefore must he call out to them "Come hither !" 

"Come hither!" For is it not so that every society 
has some symbol or token which is worn by those who belong 
to it? When a young girl is adorned in a certain manner 
one knows that she is going to the dance: Come hither all 
ye that labor and are heavy laden — come hither! You 
need not carry an external and visible badge ; come but with 
your head anointed and your face washed, if only you labor 
in your heart and are heavy laden. 

"Come hither !" Ah, do not stand still and consider ; nay, 
consider, consider that with every moment you stand still 
after having heard the invitation you will hear the call more 
faintly and thus withdraw from it, even though you are 
standing still. — "Come hither!" Ah, however weary and 
faint you be from work, or from the long, long and yet 
hitherto fruitless search for help and salvation, and even 
though you may feel as if you could not take one more step, 
and not wait one more moment, without dropping to the 
ground : ah, but this one step and here is rest ! — "Come 
hither!" But if, alas, there be one who is so wretched that 
he cannot come? — Ah, a sigh is sufficient; your mere sigh- 
ing for him is also to come hither. 

164 University of Texas BuUetin 



Pause now! But what is there to give pause? That 
which in the same instant makes all undergo an absolute 
change — so that, instead of seeing an immense throng of 
them that labor and are heavy laden following the invita- 
tion, you will in the end behold the very opposite, that is, 
an immense throng of men who flee back shudderingly, 
scrambling to get away, trampling all down before them ; 
so that, if one were to infer the sense -of what had been 
said from the result it produced, one would have to infer 
that the words had been "p7'ocul o procul este profani," 
rather than "come hither" — that gives pause which is in- 
finitely more important and infinitely more decisive: THE 
PERSON OF HIM WHO INVITES. Not in the sense that he is 
not the man to do what he has said, or not God, to keep what 
he has promised ; no, in a very different sense. 

Pause is given by the fact that he who invites is, and in- 
sists on being, the definite historic person he was 1800 years 
ago, and that he as this definite person, and living under the 
conditions then obtaining, spoke these words of invitation. 
— He is not, and does not wish to be, one about whom one 
may simply know something from history (i.e. world his- 
tory, history proper, as against Sacred History) ; for from 
history one cannot "learn" anything about him, the simple 

Selections from the Writings of Kierkegaard 165 

reason being that nothing can be "known" about him. — He 
does not wish to be judged in a human way, from the re- 
sults of his life; that is, he is and wishes to be, a rock of 
offense and the object of faith. To judge him after the 
consequences of his life is a blasphemy, for being God, his 
life, and the very fact that he was then living and really 
did live, is infinitely more important than all the conse- 
quences of it in history. 


Who spoke these words of invitation? 

He that invites. Who is he? Jesus Christ. Which 
Jesus Christ? He that sits in glory on the right side of his 
Father? No, From his seat of glory he spoke not a single 
word. Therefore it is Jesus Christ in his lowliness, and in 
the condition of lowliness, who spoke these words. 

Is then Jesus Christ not the sam.e? Yes, verily, he is to- 
day, and was yesterday, and 1800 years ago, the same who 
abased himself, assuming the form of a servant — the Jesus 
Christ who spake these words of invitation. It is also he 
who hath said that he would return again in glory. In his 
return in glory he is, again, the same Jesus Christ ; but this 
has not yet come to pass. 

Is he then not in glory now? Assuredly, that the Chris- 
tian believes. But it was in his lowly condition that he 
spoke these words ; he did not speak them from his glory. 
And about his return in glory nothing can be known, for 
this can in the strictest sense be a matter of belief only. 
But a believer one cannot become except by having gone 
to him in his lowly condition — to him, the rock of offense 
and the object of faith. In other shape he does not exist, 
for only thus did he exist. That he will return in glory 
is indeed expected, but can be expected and believed only 
by him who believes, and has believed, in him as he was here 
on earth. 

166 University of Texas Bulletin 

Jesus Christ is, then, the same; yet lived he 1800 years 
ago in debasement, and is transfigured only at his return. 
As yet he has not returned ; therefore he is still the one in 
lowly guise about whom we believe that he will return in 
glory. Whatever he said and taught, every word he spoke, 
becomes eo ipso untrue if we give it the appearance of hav- 
ing been spoken by Christ in his glory. Nay, h e is silent. 
It is the lowly Christ who speaks. The space of time 
between (i.e. between his debasement and his return in 
glory) which is at present about 1800 years, and will pos- 
sibly become many times 1800 — this space of time, or else 
what this space of time tries to make of Christ, the worldly 
information about him furnished by world history or church 
history, as to who Christ was, as to who it was who really 
spoke these words — all this does not concern us, is neither 
here nor there, but only serves to corrupt our conception 
of him, arid thereby renders untrue these words of invita- 

It is untruthful of me to impute to a person words which 
he never used. But it is likewise untruthful, and the words 
he used likewise become untruthful, or it becomes untrue 
that he used them, if I assign to him a nature essentially 
unlike the one he had when he did use them. Essentially 
unlike ; for an untruth concerning this or the other trifling 
circumstance will not make it untrue that "he" said them. 
And therefore, if it please God to walk on earth in such 
strict incognito as only one all-powerful can assume, in 
guise impenetrable to all men; if it please him — and why 
he does it, for what purpose, that he knows best himself; 
but whatever the reason and the purpose, it is certain that 
the incognito is of essential significance — I say, if it please 
God to walk on earth in the guise of a servant and, to judge 
from his appearance, exactly like any other rnan ; if it please 
him to teach men in this guise — if, now, any one repeats his 
very words, but gives the saying the appearance that it was 
God that spoke these words : then it is untruthful ; for it is 
untrue that he said these words. 

Selections from the Writings of Kierkegaard 161 


Can one from history* learn to know anything about 

No. And why not? Because one cannot "know" any- 
thing at all about "Christ"; for he is the paradox, the ob- 
ject of faith, and exists only for faith. But all historic in- 
formation is communication of "knowledge." Therefore 
one cannot learn anything about Christ from history. For 
whether now one learn little or much about him, it will not 
represent what he was in reality. Hence one learns some- 
thing else about him than what is strictly true, and there- 
fore learns nothing about him, or gets to know something 
wrong about him; that is, one is deceived. History makes 
Christ look different from what he looked in truth, and 
thus one learns much from history about — Christ? No, not 
about Christ; because about him nothing can be "known," 
he can only be believed. 


Can one prove from history that Christ was God ? 

Let me first ask another question: is any more absurd 
contradiction thinkable than wishing to PROVE (no matter, 
for the present, whether one wishes to do so from history, 
or from whatever else in the wide world one wishes to 
prove it) that a certain person is God? To maintain that 
a certain person is God — that is, professes to be God — is 
indeed a stumbling block in the purest sense. But what is 
the nature of a stumbling block? It is an assertion which 
is at variance with all (human) reason. Now think of 
proving that ! But to prove something is to render it rea- 
sonable and real. Is it possible, then, to render reasonable 

"Kierkegaard's note: by history we mean here profane history, 
world history, history as such, as against Sacred History. 

168 University of Texas Bulletin 

and real what is at variance with all reason? Scarcely; 
unless one wishes to contradict one's self. One can prove 
only that it is at variance with all reason. The proofs for 
the divinity of Christ given in Scripture, such as the mirar 
cles and his resurrection from the grave exist, too, only for 
faith ; that is, they are no "proofs," for they are not meant 
to prove that all this agrees with reason but, on the con- 
trary, are meant to prove that it is at variance with reason 
and therefore a matter of faith. 

First, then, let us take up the proofs from history. "Is 
it not 1800 years ago now that Christ lived, is not his name 
proclaimed and reverenced throughout the world, has not 
his teaching (Christianity) changed the aspect of the world, 
having victoriously affected all affairs : has then history not 
sufficiently, or more than sufficiently, made good its claim 
as to who he was, and that he was — God?" No, indeed, 
history has by no means sufficiently, or more than suffi- 
ciently, made good its claim, and in fact history cannot ac- 
complish this in all eternity. However, as to the first part 
of the statement, it is true enough that his name is pro- 
claimed throughout the world — as to whether it is rever- 
enced, that I do not presume to decide. Also, it is true 
enough that Christianity has transformed the aspect of the 
world, having victoriously affected all affairs, so victoriously 
indeed, that everybody now claims to be a Christian. 

But what does this prove ? It proves, at most, that Jesus 
Christ was a great man, the greatest, perhaps, who ever 
lived. But that he was God — stop now, that conclusion 
shall with God's help fall to the ground. 

Now, if one intends to introduce this conclusion by as- 
suming that Jesus Christ was a man, and then considers the 
1800 years of history (i.e. the consequences of his life), 
one may indeed conclude with a constantly rising superla- 
tive: he was great, greater, the greatest, extraordinarily 
and astonishingly the greatest man who ever lived. If one 
begins, on the other hand, with the assumption (of faith) 
that he was God, one has by so doing stricken out and car 
celled the 1800 years as not making the slightest difference, 
one way or the other, because the certainty of faith is on 

Selections from the Writings of Kierkegaard 169 

an infinitely higher plane. And one course or the other one 
must take; but we shall arrive at sensible conclusions only 
if we take the latter. 

If one takes the former course one will find it impossible — 
unless by committing the logical error of passing over into 
different category — one will find it impossible in the con- 
clusion suddenly to arrive at the new category "God" ; that 
5, one cannot make the consequence, or consequences, of — 
man's life suddenly prove at a certain point in the argu- 
lent that this man was God. If such a procedure were 
correct one ought to be able to answer satisfactorily a ques- 
tion like this : what must the consequence be, how great the 
effects, how many centuries must elapse, in order to infer 
from the consequences of a man's life — for such was the 
assumption — that he was God; or whether it is really the 
jase that in the year 300 Christ had not yet been entirely 
>roved to be God, though certainly the most extraordinarily, 
astonishingly, greatest man who had ever lived, but that a 
few more centuries would be necessarj^ to prove that he was 
Grod. In that case we would be obliged to infer that people 
in the fourth century did not look upon Christ as God. and 
jtill less they who lived in the first century; whereas the 
certainty that he was God would grow with every century, 
ilso, that in our century this certainty would be greater 
than it had ever been, a certainty in comparison with which 
the first centuries hardly so much as glimpsed his divinity. 
You may answer this question or not, it does not matter. 
In general, is it at all possible by the consideration of the 
gradually unfolding consequences of something to arrive at 
conclusion different in quality from what we started with ? 
ts it not sheer insanity (providing man is sane) to let one's 
judgment become so altogether confused as to land in the 
rrong category? And if one begins with such a mistake, 
then how will one be able, at any subsequent point, to infer 
from the consequences of something, that one has to deal 
rith an altogether different, in fact, infinitely different, 
itegory? A foot-print certainly is the consequence of 
jome creature having made it. Now I may mistake the 
rack for that of, let us say, a bird ; whereas by nearer in- 

170 University of Texas Bulletin 

spection, and by following it for some distance, I may make 
sure that it was made by some other animal. Very good; 
but there was no infinite difference in quality between my 
first assumption and my later conclusion. But can I, on 
further consideration and following the track still further, 
arrive at the conclusion : therefore it was a spirit — a spirit 
that leaves no tracks ? Precisely the same holds true of the 
argument that from the consequences of a human life — for 
that was the assumption — we may infer that therefore it 
was God. 

Is God then so like man, is there so little difference be- 
tween the two that, while in possession of my right senses, 
I may begin with the assumption that Christ was human? 
And, for that matter, has not Christ himself affirmed that 
he was God ? On the other hand, if God and man resemble 
each other so closely, and are related to each other to such a 
degree — that is, essentially belong to the same category of 
beings, then the conclusion "therefore he was God" is never- 
theless just humbug, because if that is all there is to being 
God, then God does not exist at all. But if God does exist 
and, therefore, belongs to a category infinitely different 
from man, why, then neither I nor any one else can start 
with the assumption that Christ was human and end with 
the conclusion that therefore he was God. Any one with 
a bit of logical sense will easily recognize that the whole 
question about the consequences of Christ's life on earth 
is incommensurable with the decision that he is God. In 
fact, this decision is to be made on an altogether different 
plane : man must decide for himself whether he will believe 
Christ to be what he himself affirmed he was, that is, God; 
or whether he will not believe so. 

What has been said — mind you, providing one will take 
the time to understand it — is sufficient to make a logical 
mind stop drawing any inferences from the consequences of 
Christ's life: that therefore he was God. But faith in its 
own right protests against every attempt to approach Jesu? 
Christ by the help of historical information about the con- 
sequences of his life. Faith contends that this whole at- 
tempt is — b lasphemous. Faith contends that the onlj 

Selections from the Writings of Kierkegaard 171 

proof left unimpaired by unbelief when it did away with all 
the other proofs of the truth of Christianity, the proof 
which — indeed, this is complicated business — I say, which 
unbelief invented in order to prove the truth of Christi- 
anity — the proof about which so excessively much ado has 
been made in Christendom, the proof of 1800 years: as to 
this, faith contends that it is — b 1 a s p h e m y. 

With regard to a m a n it is true that the consequences 
of his life are more important than his life. If one, then, 
in order to find out who Christ was, and in order to find 
out by some inference, considers the consequences of his 
life: why, then one changes him into a man by this very 
act — a man who, like other men, is to pass his examination 
in history, and history is in this case as mediocre an exam- 
iner as any half-baked teacher in Latin. 

But strange! By the help of history, that is, by consid- 
ering the consequences of his life, one wishes to arrive at 
the conclusion that therefore, therefore he was 
God ; and faith makes the exactly opposite contention that 
he who even begins with this syllogism is guilty of blas- 
phemy. Nor does the blasphemy consist in assuming hypo- 
thetically that Christ was a man. No, the blasphemy con- 
sists in the thought which lies at the bottom of the whole 
business, the thought without Which one would never start 
it, and of whose validity one is fully and firmly assured that 
it will hold also with regard to Christ — the thought that the 
consequences of his life are more important than his life; 
in other words, that he is a man. The hypothesis is: let 
us assume that Christ was a man ; but at the bottom of this 
hypothesis, which is not blasphemy as yet, there lies the 
assumption that, the consequences of a man's life being more 
important than his life, this will hold true also of Christ. 
Unless this is assumed one must admit that one's whole ar- 

Igument is absurd, must admit it before beginning — so why 
begin at all? But once it is assumed, and the argument is 
started, we have the blasphemy. And the more one be- 
comes absorbed in the consequences of Christ's life, with 
the aim of being able to make sure whether or no he was 
God, the more blasphemous is one's conduct; and it remains 

172 University of Texas Bulletin 

blasphemous so long as this consideration is persisted in. 

Curious coincidence: one tries to make it appear that, 
providing one but thoroughly considers the consequences of 
Christ's life, this "therefore" will surely be arrived at — 
and faith condemns the very beginning of this attempt as 
blasphemy, and hence the continuance in it as a worse blas- 

"History," says faith, "has nothing to do with Christ." 
With regard to him we have only Sacred History (which is 
different in kind from general history). Sacred History 
which tells of his life and career when in debasement, and 
tells also that he affirmed himself to be God. He is the 
paradox which history never will be able to digest or con- 
vert into a general syllogism. He is in his debasement the 
same as he is in his exaltation — but the 1800 years, or let it 
be 18,000 years, have nothing whatsoever to do with this. 
The brilliant consequences in the history of the world which 
are sufficient, almost, to convince even a professor of history 
that he was God, these brilliant consequences surely do not 
represent his return in glory! Forsooth, in that case it 
were imagined rather meanly ! The same thing over again : 
Christ is thought to be a man whose return in glory can be, 
and can become, nothing else than the consequences of his 
life in history — whereas Christ's return in glory is some- 
thing absolutely different and a matter of faith. He abased 
himself and was swathed in rags — he will return in glory; 
but the brilliant consequences in history, especially when 
examined a little more closely, are too shabby a glory — 
at any rate a glory of an altogether incongruous nature, of 
which faith therefore never speaks, when speaking about 
his glory. History is a very respectable science indeed, 
only it must not become so conceited as to take upon itself 
what the Father will do, and clothe Christ in his glory, 
dressing him up with the brilliant garments of the conse- 
quences of his life, as if that constituted his return. That 
he was God in his debasement and that he will return in 
glory, all this is far beyond the comprehension of history; 
nor can all this be got from history, excepting by an incom- 
parable lack of logic, and however incomparable one's view 
of history may be otherwise. 

Selections from the Writings of Kierkegaard 173 

How strange, then, that one ever wished to use history 
in order to prove Christ divine. 


Are the consequences of Christ's life 
more important than his life? 

No, by no means, but rather the opposite ; for else Christ 
were but a man. 

There is really nothing remarkable in a man having lived. 
There have certainly lived millions upon millions of men. 
If the fact is remarkable, there must have been something 
remarkable in a man's life. In other words, there is noth- 
ing remarkable in his having lived, but his life was remark- 
able for this or that. The remarkable thing may, among 
other matters, also be what he accomplished; that is, the 
consequences of his life. 

But that God lived here on earth in human form, that is 
infinitely remarkable. No matter if his life had had no 
consequences at all — it remains equally remarkable, infi- 
nitely remarkable, infinitely more remarkable than all pos- 
sible consequences. Just try to introduce that which is re- 
markable as something secondary and you will straightway 
see the absurdity of doing so : now, if you please, whatever 
remarkable is there in God's life having had remarkable 
consequences? To speak in this fashion is merely twad- 

No, that God lived here on earth, that is what is infinitely 
remarkable, that which is remarkable in itself. Assuming 
that Christ's life had had no consequences whatsoever — if 
any one then undertook to say that therefore his life was 
not remarkable it would be blasphemy. For it would be 
remarkable all the same; and if a secondary remarkable 
characteristic had to be introduced it would consist in the 
remarkable fact that his life had no consequences. But if 
one should say that Christ's life was remarkable because 

174 University of Texas Bulletin 

of its consequences, then this again were a blasphemy; for 
it is his life which in itself is the remarkable thing. 

There is nothing very remarkable in a man's having lived, 
but it is infinitely remarkable that God has lived, God alone 
can lay so much emphasis on himself that the fact of his 
having lived becomes infinitely more important than all 
the consequences which may flow therefrom and which then 
become a matter of history. 

A comparison between Christ and 
a man who in his life endured the 
same treatment by his times as Christ 

Let us imagine a man, one of the exalted spirits, one who 
was wronged by his times, but whom history later reinstated 
in his rights by proving by the consequences of his life who 
he was. I do not deny, by the way, that all this business 
of proving from the consequences is a course well suited 
to "a world which ever wishes to be deceived." For he who 
was contemporary with him and did not understand who he 
was, he really only imagines that he understands when he 
has got to know it by help of the consequences of the noble 
one's life. Still, I do not wish to insist on this point, for 
with regard to a man it certainly holds true that the conse- 
quences of his life are more important than the fact of his 
having lived. 

Let us imagine one of these exalted spirits. He lives among 
his contemporaries without being understood, his signifi- 
cance is not recognized — he is misunderstood, and then 
mocked, persecuted, and finally put to death like a common 
evil-doer. But the consequences of his life make it plain 
who he was; history which keeps a record of these conse- 
quences re-instates him in his rightful position, and now he 
is named in one century after another as the great and the 
noble spirit, and the circumstances of his debasement are 
almost completely forgotten. It was blindness on the part 

Selections from the Writings of Kierkegaard 175 

of his contemporaries which prevented them from compre- 
hending his true nature, and wickedness which made them 
mock him and deride him, and finally put him to death. 
But be no more concerned about this ; for only after his 
death did he really become what he was, through the conse- 
quences of his life which, after all, are by far more im- 
portant than his life. 

Now is it not possible that the same holds true with re- 
gard to Christ? It was blindness and wickedness on the 
part of those times' — but be no more concerned about this, 
history has now re-instated him, from history we know now 
who Jesus Christ was, and thus justice is done him. 

Ah, wicked thoughtlessness which thus interprets Sacred 
History like profane history, which makes Christ a man! 
But can one, then, learn anything from history about Jesus? 
(cf. h) No, nothing. Jesus Christ is the object of faith — 
one either believes in him or is offended by him; for "to 
know" means precisely that such knowledge does not per- 
tain to him. History can therefore, to be sure, give one 
knowledge in abundance; but "knowledge" annihilates 
Jesus Christ. 

Again — ah, the impious thoughtlessness ! — for one to pre- 
sume to say about Christ's abasement : "Let us be concerned 
no more about his abasement." Surely, Christ's abasement 
was not something which merely happened to him — even if 
it was the sin of that generation to crucify him ; was surely 
not something that simply happened to him and, perhaps, 
would not have happened to him in better times. Christ 
himself w i s h e d to be abased and lowly. His abasement 
(that is, his walking on earth in humble guise, though being 
God) is therefore a condition of his own making, some- 
thing he wished to be knotted together, a dialectic knot 
which no one shall presume to untie, and which no one will 
untie, for that matter, until he himself shall untie it when 
returning in his glory. 

His case is, therefore, not the same as that of a man who, 

"Cf. the claim of the Pharisees, Matth. 23, 30: "If we had been 
in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with 
theni in the blood of the prophets." 

176 University of Texas Bulletin 

through the injustice inflicted on him by his times, was not 
allowed to be himself or to be valued at his worth, while 
history revealed who he was ; for Christ himself wished to 
be abased — it is precisely this condition which he desired. 
Therefore, let history not trouble itself to do him justice, 
and let us not in impious thoughtlessness presumptuously 
imagine that we as a matter of course know who he was. 
For that no one knows; and he who believes it must 
become contemporaneous with him in his abasement. When 
God chooses to let himself be born in lowliness, when he 
who holds all possibilities in his hand assumes the form 
of a humble servant, when he fares about defenseless, letting 
people do with him what they list : he surely knows what he 
does and why he does it; for it is at all events he who has 
power over men, and not men who have power over him — 
so let not history be so impertinent as to wish to reveal 
who he was. 

Lastly — ah the blasphemy! — if one should presume to 
say that the percution which Christ suffered expresses 
something accidental! If a man is persecuted by his gen- 
eration it does not follow that he has the right to say that 
this would happen to him in every age. Insofar there is 
reason in what posterity says about letting bygones be by- 
gones. But it is different with Christ! It is not he who 
by letting himself be born, and by appearing in Palestine, 
is being examined by history ; but it is he who examines, his 
life is the examination, not only of that generation, but of 
mankind. Woe unto the generation that would pre- 
sumptuously dare to say : "let bygones be bygones, and for 
get what he suffered, for history has now revealed who he 
was and has done justice by him." 

If one assumes that history is really able to do this, then 
the abasement of Christ bears an accidental relation to 
him; that is to say, he thereby is made a man, an extraordi- 
nary man to whom this happened through the wickedness of 
that generation — a fate which he was far from wishing to 
suffer, for he would gladly (as is human) have become a 
great man ; whereas Christ voluntarily chose to be the lowly 
one and, although it was his purpose to save the world, 

Selections from the Writings of Kierkegaard 177 

wished also to give expression to what the "truth" suffered 
then, and must suffer in every generation. But if this is 
his strongest desire, and if he will show himself in his glory 
only at his return, and if he has not returned as yet ; and if 
no generation may be without repentance, but on the con- 
trary every generation must consider itself a partner in 
the guilt of that generation : then woe to him who presumes 
to deprive him of his lowliness, or to cause what he suffered 
to be forgotten, and to clothe him in the fabled human glory 
of the historic consequences of his life, which is neither here 
nor there. 

The Misfortune of Christendom 

But precisely this is the misfortune, and has been the 
misfortune, in Christendom that Christ is neither the one 
nor the other — neither the one he was when living on earth, 
nor he who will return in glory, but rather one about whom 
we have learned to know something in an inadmissible way 
from history — ^that he was somebody or other of great 
account. In an inadmissible and unlawful way we have 
learned to k n o w him ; whereas to believe in him is the only 
permissible mode of approach. Men have mutually con- 
firmed one another in the opinion that the sum total of in- 
formation about him is available if they but consider the 
result of his life and the following 1800 years, i.e. the con- 
sequences. Gradually, as this became accepted as the truth, 
all pith and strength was distilled out of Christianity; the 
paradox was relaxed, one became a Christian without no- 
ticing it, without noticing in the least the possibility of being 
offended by him. One took over Christ's teachings, turned 
them inside out and smoothed them down — he himself guar- 
anteeing them, of course, the man whose life had had such 
immense consequences in history ! AJl became plain as day 
— very naturally, since Christianity in this fashion became 

178 University of Texas Bulletin 

There is in Christendom an incessant twaddling on Sun- 
days about the glorious and invaluable truths of Christian- 
ity, its mild consolation. But it is indeed evident that 
Christ lived 1800 years ago; for the rock of offense and 
object of faith has become a most charming fairy-story 
character, a kind of divine good old man,- People have not 
the remotest idea of what it means to be offended by him, 
and still less, what it means to worship. The qualities for 
which Christ is magnified are precisely those which would 
have most enraged one, if one had been contemporaneous 
with him ; whereas now one feels altogether secure, placing 
implicit confidence in the result and, relying altogether on 
the verdict of history that he was the great man, concludes 
therefore that it is correct to do so. That is to say, it is 
the correct, and the noble, and the exalted, and the true, 
thing — if it is he who does it; which is to say, again, that 
one does not in any deeper sense take the pains to under- 
stand what it is he does, and that one tries even less, to the 
best of one's ability and with the help of God, to be like him 
in acting rightly and nobly, and in an exalted manner, and 
truthfully. For, not really fathoming it in any deeper 
sense, one may, in the exigency of a contemporaneous situa- 
tion, judge him in exactly the opposite way. One is satis- 
fied with admiring and extolling and is, perhaps, as was said 
of a translator who rendered his original word for word 
and therefore without making sense, "too conscientious," 
— one is, perhaps, also too cowardly and too weak to wish to 
understand his real meaning. 

Christendom has done away with Christianity, without 
being aware of it. Therefore, if anything is to be done 
about it, the attempt must be made to re-introduce Chris- 

**One is here irresistibly reminded of passages in Ibsen's "Brand," 
e. g., Brand's conversation with Einar, in Act I. Cf. also p. 207 
and Introduction p. 1. 


Selections from the Writings of Kierkegaard 179 

He who invites is, then, Jesus Christ in his abasement, 
it is he who spoke these words of invitation. It is not from 
his glory that they are spoken. If that were the case, then 
Christianity were heathendom and the name of Christ taken 
in vain, and for this reason it cannot be so. But if it were 
the case that he who is enthroned in glory had said these 
words : Come hither — as though it were so altogether easy 
a matter to be clasped in the arms of glory — well, what 
wonder, then, if crowds of men ran to him ! But they who 
thus throng to him merely go on a wild goose chase, imag- 
ining they know who Christ is. But that no one knows; 
and in order to believe in him one has to begin with his 

He who invites and speaks these words, that is, he whose 
words they are — whereas the same words if spoken by some 
one else are, as we have seen, an historic falsification — he 
is the same lowly Jesus Christ, the humble man, bom of a 
despised maiden, whose father is a carpenter, related to 
other simple folk of the very lowest class, the lowly man 
who at the same time (which, to be sure, is like oil poured 
on the fire) affirms himself to be God, 

It is the lowly Jesus Christ who spoke these words. And 
no word of Christ, not a single one, have you permission to 
appropriate to yourself, you have not the least share in him, 
are not in any way of his company, if you have not become 
his contemporary in lowliness in such fashion that you have 
become aware, precisely like his contemporaries, of his 
warning : "Blessed is he whosoever shall not be offended in 
me."° You have no right to accept Christ's words, and then 
lie him away; you have no right to accept Christ's words, 
and then in a fantastic manner, and with the aid of history, 
utterly change the nature of Christ ; for the chatter of his- 
tory about him is literally not worth a fig. 

It is Jesus Christ in his lowliness who is the speaker. It 
is historically true that h e said these words ; but so soon as 

^Matthew 11, 6. 

180 University of Texas Bulletin 

one makes a change in his historic status, it is false to say 
that these words were spoken by him. 

This poor and lowly man, then, with twelve poor fellows 
as his disciples, all from the lowest class of society, for some 
time an object of curiosity, but later on in company only 
with sinners, publicans, lepers, and madmen ; for one risked 
honor, life, and property, or at any rate (and that we know 
for sure) exclusion from the synagogue, by even letting 
one's self be helped by him — come hither now, all ye that 
labor and are heavy laden! Ah, my friend, even if you 
were deaf and blind and lame and leprous, if you, which 
has never been seeh or heard before, united all human mis- 
eries in your misery — and if he wished to help you by a 
miracle: it is possible that (as is human) you would fear 
more than all your sufferings the punishment which was 
set on accepting aid from him, the punishment of being 
cast out from the society of other men, of being ridiculed 
and mocked, day after day, and perhaps of losing your life. 
It is human (and it is characteristic of being human) were 
you to think as follows : "no, thank you, in that case I pre- 
fer to remain deaf and blind and lame and leprous, rather 
than accept aid under such conditions." 

"Come hither, come hither, all, ye that labor and are 
heavy laden, ah, come hither," lo! he invites you and opens 
his arms. Ah, when a gentlemanly man clad in a silken 
gown says this in a pleasant, harmonious voice so that the 
words pleasantly resound in the handsome vaulted church, 
a man in silk who radiates honor and respect on all who 
listen to him ; ah, when a king in purple and velvet says 
this, with the Christmas tree in the background on which 
are hanging all the splendid gifts he intends to distribute, 
why, then of course there is some meaning in these words ! 
But whatever meaning you may attach to them, so much is 
sure that it is not Christianity, but the exact opposite, some- 
thing as diametrically opposed to Christianity as may well 
be ; for remember who it is that invites ! 

And now judge for yourself — for that you have a right 
to do; whereas men really do not have a right to do what 
is so often done, viz. to deceive themselves. That a man 

Selections from the Writings of Kierkegaard 181 

of such appearance, a man whose company every one shuns 
who has the least bit of sense in his head, or the least bit 
to lose in the world, that he — well, this is the absurdest and 
maddest thing of all, one hardly knows whether to laugh 
or to weep about it — that he — indeed, that is the very last 
word one would expect to issue from his mouth ; for if he 
had said : "Come hither and help me," or : "Leave me alone," 
or: "Spare me," or proudly: "I despise you all," we could 
understand that perfectly — but that such a man says: 
"Come hither to me!" why, I declare, that looks inviting 
indeed ! And still further : "All ye that labor and are heavy 
laden" — as though such folk were not burdened enough with 
troubles, as though they now, to cap all, should be exposed 
to the consequences of associating with him. And then, 
finally: "I shall give you rest." What's that? — he help 
them? Ah, I am sure even the most good-natured joker 
who was contemporary with him would have to say : "Surely, 
that was the thing he should have undertaken last of all — 
to wish to help others, being in that condition himself! 
Why, it is about the same as if a beggar were to inform 
the police that he had been robbed. For it is a contradiction 
that one who has nothing, and has had nothing, informs us 
that he has been robbed ; and likewise, to wish to help others 
when one's self needs help most." Indeed it is, humanly 
speaking, the most harebrained contradiction, that he who 
literally "hath not where to lay his head," that he about 
whom it was spoken truly, in a human sense, "Behold the 
man!" — that he should say: "Come hither unto me all ye 
that suffer— I shall help !" 

Now examine yourself — for that you have a right to do. 
You have a right to examine yourself, but you really do not 
have a right to let yourself without self-examination be de- 
luded by "the others" into the belief, or to delude yourself 
into the belief, that you are a Christian — therefore examine 
yourself: supposing you were contemporary with him I 
True enough he — alas I h e affirmed himself to be God ! But 
many another madman has made that claim — and his times 
gave it as their opinion that he uttered blasphemy. Why, 
was not that precisely the reason why a punishment was 

182 University of Texas Bulletin 

threatened for allowing one's self to be aided by him? It 
was the godly care for their souls entertained by the ex- 
isting order and by public opinion, lest any one should be 
led astray : it was this godly care that led them to persecute 
him in this fashion. Therefore, before any one resolves 
to be helped by him, let him consider that he must not only 
expect the antagonism of men, but — consider it well ! — even 
if you could bear the consequences of that step — ^but con- 
sider well, that the punishment meted out by men is sup- 
posed to be God's punishment of him, "the blasphemer" 
— of him who invites ! 

Come hither n o w all ye that labor and are heavy laden ! 

How now? Surely this is nothing to run after — some 
little pause is given, which is most fittingly used to go around 
about by way of another street. And even if you should 
not thus sneak out in some way — always providing you feel 
yourself to be contemporary with him — or sneak into being 
some kind of Christian by belonging to Christendom : yet 
there will be a» tremendous pause given, the pause which is 
the very condition that faith may arise : you are given pause 
by the possibility of being offended in him. 

But in order to make it entirely clear, and bring it home 
to our minds, that the pause is given by him who invites, 
that it is he who gives us pause and renders it by no means 
an easy, but a peculiarly difficult, matter to follow his in- 
vitation, because one has no right to accept it without ac- 
cepting also him who invites — in order to make this entirely 
clear I shall briefly review his life under two aspects which, 
to be sure, show some difference though both essentially 
pertain to his abasement. For it is always an abasement 
for God to become man, even if he were to be an emperor 
of emperors ; and therefore he is not essentially more 
abased because he is a poor, lowly man, mocked, and as 
Scripture adds,'° spat upon. 

lOLuke 18, 32. 

Selections from the Writings of Kierkegaard 183 


And now let us speak about him in a homely fashion, just 
as his contemporaries spoke about him, and as one speaks 
about some contemporary — let him be a man of the same 
kind as we are, whom one meets on the street in passing, 
of whom one knows where he lives and in what story, what 
his business is, who his parents are, his family, how he looks 
and how he dresses, with whom he associates, "and there 
is nothing extraordinary about him, he looks as men gen- 
erally look" ; in short, let us speak of him as one speaks of 
some contemporary about whom one does not make a great 
ado; for in living life together with these thousands upon 
thousands of real people there is no room for a fine dis- 
tinction like this: "Possibly, this man will be remembered 
in centuries to come," and "at the same time he is r e a 1 1 y 
only a clerk in some shop who is no whit better than his 
fellows." Therefore, let us speak about him as contem- 
poraries speak about some contemporary. I know very well 
what I am doing ; and I want you to believe that the canting 
and indolent world-historic habit we have of always rever- 
ently speaking about Christ (since one has learned all about 
it from history, and has heard so. much about his having 
been something very extraordinary, indeed, or something 
of that kind) — that reverent habit, I assure you, is not worth 
a row of pins but is, rather, sheer thoughtlessness, hypoc- 
risy, and as such blasphemy; for it is blasphemy to rever- 
ence thoughtlessly him whom one is either to believe in or 
to be offended in. 

It is the lowly Jesus Christ, a humble man, born of a 
maiden of low degree, whose father is a carpenter. To be 
sure, his appearance is made under conditions which are 
bound to attract attention to him. The small nation among 
whom he appears, God's Chosen People as they call them- 
selves, live in anticipation of a Messiah who is to bring a 
golden period to land and people. You must grant that the 
form in which he appears is as different as possible from 
what most people would have expected. On the other hand, 
his appearance corresponds more to the ancient prophecies 

184 University of Texas Bulletin 

with which the people are thought to have been familiar. 
Thus he presents himself. A predecessor has called atten- 
tion to him, and he himself fastens attention very decidedly 
on himself by signs and wonders which are noised abroad 
in all the land — and he is the hero of the hour, surrounded 
by unnumbered multitudes of people wheresoever he fares. 
The sensation aroused by him is enormous, every one's eyes 
are fastened on him, every one who can go about, aye even 
those who can only crawl, must see the wonder — and every 
one must have some opinion about him, so that the purvey- 
ors of ready-made opinions are put to it because the demand 
is so furious and the contradictions so confusing. And yet 
he, the worker of miracles, ever remains the humble man 
who literally hath not where to lay his head. 

And let us not forget: signs and wonders as contempo- 
rary events have a markedly greater elasticity in repelling 
or attracting than the tame stories generally re-hashed by 
the priests, or the still tamer stories about signs and won- 
ders that happened — 1800 years ago! Signs and wonders 
as contemporary events are something plaguy and impor- 
tunate, something which in a highly embarrassing manner 
almost compels one to have an opinion, something which, if 
one does not happen to be disposed to believe, may exasper- 
ate one excessively by thus forcing one to be contempora- 
neous with it. Indeed, it renders existence too complicated, 
and the more so, the more thoughtful, developed, and cul- 
tured one is. It is a peculiarly ticklish matter, this having 
to assume that a man who is contemporaneous with one 
really performs signs and wonders ; but when he is at some 
distance from one, when the consequences of his life stimu- 
late the irnagination a bit, then it is not so hard to imagine, 
in a fashion, that one believes it. 

As I said, then, the people are carried away with him; 
they follow him jubilantly, and see signs and wonders, both 
those which he performs and those which he does not per- 
form, and they are glad in their hope that the golden age 
will begin, once he is king. But the crowd rarely have a 
clear reason for their opinions, they think one thing today 
and another tomorrow. Therefore the wise and the critical 

Selections from the Writings of Kierkegaard 185 

will not at once participate. Let us see now what the wise 
and the critical must think, so soon as the first impression 
of astonishment and surprise has subsided. 

The shrewd and critical man would probably say: "Even 
assuming that this person is what he claims to be, that is. 
something extraordinary — for as to his affirming himself 
to be God I can, of course, not consider that as anything but 
an exaggeration for which I willingly make allowances, 
and pardon him, if I really considered him to be something 
extraordinary ; for I am not a pedant — assuming then, which 
I hesitate to do, for it is a matter on which I shall at anj' 
rate suspend my judgment — assuming then that he is really 
performing miracles : is it not an inexplicable mystery that 
this person can be so foolish, so weak-minded, so altogether 
devoid of worldly wisdom, so feeble, or so good-naturedly 
vain, or whatever else you please to call it — that he behaves 
in this fashion and almost forces his benefactions on men? 
Instead of proudly and commandingly keeping people away 
from himself at a distance marked by their profoundest 
submission, whenever he does allow himself to be seen, at 
rare occasions : instead of doing so, think of his being ac- 
cessible to every one, or rather himself going to every one, 
of having intercourse with everybody, almost as if being the 
extraordinary person consisted in his being everybody's 
servant," as if the extraordinary person he claims to be 
were marked by his being concerned only lest men should 
fail to be benefited by him — in short as if being an extra- 
ordinary person consisted in being the most solicitous of 
all persons. The whole business is inexplicable to me — 
what he wants, what his purpose is, what end he has in 
mind, what he expects to accomplish; in a word, what the 
meaning of it all is. He who by so many a wise saying re- 
veals so profound an insight into the human heart, he must 
certainly know what I, using but half of my wits, can pre- 
dict for him, viz. that in such fashion one gets nowhere in 
the world — unless, indeed, despising prudence, one consist- 
ently aims to make a fool of one's self or. perchance, goes 
so far in sincerity as to prefer being put to death ; but any- 

iiMatthew 20, 27f. 

186 University of Texas Bulletin 

one desiring that must certainly be crazy. Having such 
profound knowledge of the human heart he certainly ought 
to know that the thing to do is to deceive people and then to 
give one's deception the appearance of being a benefaction 
conferred on the whole race. By doing so one reaps all 
advantages, even the one whose enjoyment is the sweetest 
of all, which is, to be called by one's contemporaries a bene- 
factor of the human race — for, once in your grave, you may 
snap your fingers at what posterity may have to say abouT 
you. But to surrender one's self altogether, as he does, and 
not to think the least of one's self — in fact, almost to beg 
people to accept these benefactions : no, I would not dream 
of joining his company. And, of course, neither does he 
invite me; for, indeed, he invites only them that labor and 
are heavy laden." 

Or he would reason as follows : "His life is simply a fan- 
tastic dream. In fact, that is the mildest expression one 
can use about it ; for, when judging him in this fashion, one 
is good-natured enough to forget altogether the evidence 
of sheer madness in his claim to be God. This is wildly 
fantastical. One may possibly live a few years of one's 
youth in such fashion. But he is now past thirty years. 
And he is literally nothing. Still further, in a very short 
time he will necessarily lose all the respect and reputation 
he has gained among the people, the only thing, you may 
say, he has gained for himself. One who wishes to keep 
in the good graces of the people — the riskiest chance imag- 
inable, I will admit — he must act differently. Not many 
months will pass before the crowd will grow tired of one 
who is so altogether at their service. He will be regarded 
as a ruined person, a kind of outcast, who ought to be glad 
to end his days in a corner, the world forgetting, by the 
world forgot ; providing he does not, by continuing his pre- 
vious behavior, prefer to maintain his present attitude and 
be fantastic enough to wish to be put to death, which is the 
unavoidable consequence of persevering in that course. 
What has he done for his future? Nothing. Has he any 
assured position? No. What expectations has he? None. 
Even this trifling matter : what will he do to pass the time 

Selections from the Writings of Kierkegaard 187 

when he grows older, the long winter nights, what will he 
do to make them pass — why, he cannot even play cards! 
He is now enjoying a bit of popular favor — in truth, of all 
movable property the most movable — which in a trice may 
turn into an enormous popular hatred of him. — Join his 
company? No, thank you, I am still, thank God, in my right 

Or he may reason as follows: "That there is something 
extraordinary about this person — even if one reserves tne 
right, both one's own and that of common sense, to refrain 
from venturing any opinion as to his claim of being God — 
about that there is really little doubt. Rather, one might be 
indignant at Providence's having entrusted such a person 
with these powers — a person who does the very opposite 
of what he himself bids us do: that we shall not cast our 
pearls before the swine; for which reason he will, as he 
himself predicts, come to grief by their turning about and 
trampling him under their feet. One may always expect 
this of swine ; but, on the other hand, one would not expect 
that he who had himself called attention to this likelihood, 
himself would do precisely^- what he knows one should not 
do. If only there were some means of cleverly stealing his 
wisdom — for I shall gladly leave him in indisputed posses- 
sion of that very peculiar thought of his that he is God — 
if one could but rob his wisdom without, at the same time, 
becoming his disciple! If one could only steal up to him 
at night and lure it from him; for I am more than equal 
to editing and publishing it, and better than he, if you please. 
I undertake to astonish the whole world by getting some- 
thing altogether different out of it ; for I clearly see there 
is something wondrously profound in what he says, and the 
misfortune is only that he is the man he is. But perhaps, 
who knows, perhaps it is feasible, anyway, to fool him out 
of it. Perhaps in that respect too he is good-natured and 
simple enough to communicate it quite freely to me. It is 
not impossible; for it seems to me that the wisdom he un- 
questionably possesses, evidently has been entrusted to a 
fool, seeing there is so much contradiction in his life. — But 

'2The original here does not agree with the sense of the passage. 

188 University of Texas Bulletin 

as to joining his company and becoming his disciple — no, 
indeed, that would be the same as becoming a fool oneself." 
Or he might reason as follows : "If this person does indeed 
mean to further what is good and true (I do not venture to 
decide this), he is helpful at least, in this respect, to youths 
and inexperienced people. For they will be benefited, in 
this serious life of ours, by learning, the sooner the better, 
and very thoroughly — he opens the eyes even of the blindest 
to this — that all this pretense of wishing to live only for 
goodness and truth contains a considerable admixture of the 
ridiculous. He proves how right the poets of our times are 
when they let truth and goodness be represented by some 
half-witted fellow, one who is so stupid that you can knock 
down a wall with him. The idea of exerting one's self, as 
this man does, of renouncing everything but pains and 
trouble, to be at beck and call all day long, more eager than 
the busiest family physician — and pray why? Because he 
makes a living by it ? No, not in the very least ; it has never 
occurred to him, as far as I can see, to want something in 
return. Does he earn any money by it? No, not a red cent 
— he has not a red cent to his name, and if he did he would 
forthwith give it away. Does he, then, aspire to a position 
of honor and dignity in the state? On the contrary, he 
loathes all worldly honor. And he who, as I said, condemns 
all worldly honor, and practices the art of living on noth- 
ing ; he who, if any one, seems best fitted to pass his life in 
a most comfortable dolce far niente — which is not such a 
bad thing — : he lives under a greater strain than any gov- 
ernment official who is rewarded by honor and dignity, lives 
under a greater strain than any business man who earns 
money like sand. Why does he exert himself thus, or (why 
this question about a matter not open to question?) why 
should any one exert himself thus — in order to attain to the 
happiness of being ridiculed, mocked, and so forth? To be 
sure, a peculiar kind of pleasure! That one should push 
one's way through a crowd to reach the spot where money, 
honor, and glory are distributed — why, that is perfectly 
understandable; but to push forward to be whipped: how 
exalted, how Christian, how stupid!" 

Selections from the Writings of Kierkegaard 189 

Or he will reason as follows: "One hears so many rash 
opinions about this person from people who understand 
nothing — and worship him ; and so many severe condemna- 
tions of him by those who, perhaps, misunderstand him 
after all. As for me, I am not going to allow myself to be 
accused of venturing a hasty opinion, I shall keep entirelj'^ 
cool and calm; in fact, which counts for still more, I am 
conscious of being as reasonable and moderate with him 
as is possible. Grant now — which, to be sure. I do only 
to a certain extent — grant even that one's reason is im- 
pressed by this person. What, then, is my opinion about 
him? My opinion is, that for the present, I can form no 
opinion about him. I do not mean about his claim of being 
God; for about that I can never in all eternity have an 
opinion. No, I mean about him as a man. Only by the 
consequences of his life shall we be able to decide whether 
he was an extraordinary person or whether, deceived by 
his imagination, he applied too high a standard, not only to 
himself, but also to humanity in general. More I cannot 
do for him, try as I may — if he were my only friend, my 
own child, I could not judge him more leniently, nor differ- 
ently, either. It follows from this, to be sure, that in all 
probability, and for good reasons, I shall not ever be able 
to have any opinion about him. For in order to be able to 
form an opinion I must first see the consequences of his life, 
including his very last moments; that is, he must be dead. 
Then, and perhaps not even then, may I form an opinion of 
him. And> even granting this, it is not really an opinion 
about him, for he is then no more. No more is needed to 
say why it is impossible for me to join him while he is liv- 
ing. The authority he is said to show in his teaching 
can have no decisive influence in my case; for it is surely 
easy to see that his thought moves in a circle. He quotes as 
authority that which he is to prove, which in its turn can 
be proved only by the consequences of his life ; provided, of 
course, it is not connected with that fixed idea of his about 
being God, because if it is therefore he has this au- 
thority (because he is God) the answer must be: yes — if! 
So much, however, I may admit, that if I could imagine my- 

190 University of Texas Bulletin 

self living in some later age, and if the consequences of his 
life as shown in history had made it plain that he was the 
extraordinary person he in a former age claimed to be, 
then it might very well be — in fact, I might come very near, 
becoming his disciple." 

An ecclesiastic would reason as follows : "For an impostor 
and demagogue he has, to say the truth, a remarkable air 
of honesty about him ; for which reason he cannot be so ab- 
solutely dangerous, either, even though the situation looks 
dangerous enough while the squall is at its height, and even 
though the situation looks dangerous enough with his enor- 
mous popularity — until the squall has passed over and the 
people — yes, precisely the people — overthrow him again. 
The honest thing about him is his claim to be the Messiah 
when he resembles him so little as he does. That is hon- 
est, just as if some one in preparing bogus paper-money 
made the bills so poorly that every one who knows the least 
about it cannot fail to detect the fraud. — True enough, we 
all look forward to a Messiah, but surely no one with any 
sense expects God himself to come, and every religious per- 
son shudders at the blasphemous attitude of this person. 
We look forward to a Messiah, we are all agreed on that. 
But the governance of the world does not go forward tu- 
multuously, by leaps and bounds; the development of the 
world, as is indicated by the very fact that it is a develop- 
ment, proceeds by evolution, not by revolution. The true 
Messiah will therefore look quite different, and will arrive 
as the most glorious flower, and the highest development, 
of that which already exists. Thus will the true Messiah 
come, and he will proceed in an entirely different fashion: 
he will recognize the existing order as the basis of things, 
he will summon all the clergy to council and present to them 
the results accomplished by him, as well as his credentials — 
and then, if he obtain the majority of the votes when the 
ballot is cast, he will be received and saluted as the extra- 
ordinary person, as the one he is : the Messiah.^' 

"However, there is a duplicity in this man's behavior ; he 

^^Bjornson's play of "Beyond Human Power," Part I, Act 2, reads 
like an elaboration of these views. 

Selections from the Writings of Kierkegaard 191 

assumes too much the role of judge. It seems as if he 
wished to be, at one and the same time, both the judge who 
passes sentence on the existing order of things, and the 
Messiah. If he does not wish to play the role of the judge, 
then why his absolute isolation, his keeping at a distance 
from all which has to do with the existing order of things? 
And if he does not wish to be the judge, then why his fan- 
tastic flight from reality to join the ignorant crowd, then 
why with the haughtiness of a revolutionary does he de- 
spise all the intelligence and eflSciency to be found in the 
existing order of things? And why does he begin afresh 
altogether, and absolutely from the bottom up, by the help 
of — fishermen and artisans? May not the fact that he is 
an illegitimate child fitly characterize his entire relation to 
the existing order of things? On the other hand, if he 
wishes to be only the Messiah, why then his warning about 
putting a piece of new cloth unto an old garment.'* For 
these words are precisely the watchwords of every revolu- 
tion since they are expressive of a person's discontent with 
the existing order and of his wish to destroy it. That is, 
these words reveal his desire to remove existing conditions, 
rather than to build on them and better them, if one is a 
reformer, or to develop them to their highest possibility, 
if one is indeed the Messiah. This is duplicity. In fact, 
it is not feasible to be both judge and Messiah. Such du- 
plicit\' will surely result in his downfall.^ ' The climax in 
the life of a judge is his death by violence, and so the poet 
pictures it correctly ; but the climax in the life of the Mes- 
siah cannot possibly be his death. Or else, by that very 
fact, he would not be the Messiah, that is, he whom the ex- 
isting order expects in order to deify him. This duplicity 
has not as yet been recognized by the people, who see in him 
their Messiah; but the existing order of things cannot by 
any manner of means recognize him as such. The people, 
the idle and loafing crowd, can do so only because they 
represent nothing less than the existing order of things. 

i^Matthew 9, 16. 

i''The following passage is capable of different interpretations in 
the original. 

192 University of Texas Bulletin 

But as soon as the duplicity becomes evident to them, his 
doom is sealed. Why, in this respect his predecessor was 
a far more definitely marked personality, for he was but 
one thing, the judge. But what confusion and thoughtless- 
ness, to wish to be both, and what still worse confusion, to 
acknowledge his predecessor as the judge — that is, in other 
words, precisely to make the existing order of things re- 
ceptive and ripe for the Messiah who is to come after the 
judge, and yet not wish to associate himself with the exist- 
ing order of things!" 

And the philosopher would reason as follows: "Such 
dreadful or, rather, insane vanity, that a single individual 
claims to be God, is a thing hitherto unheard of. Never 
before have we been witness to such an excess of pure sub- 
jectivity and sheer negation. He has no doctrines, no sys- 
tem of philosophy, he knows really nothing, he simply keeps 
on repeating, and making variations on, some unconnected 
aphoristic sentences, some few maxims, and a couple of 
parables by which he dazzles the crowd for whom he also 
performs signs and wonders ; so that they, instead of learn- 
ing something, or being improved, come to believe in one 
who in a most brazen way constantly forces his subjective 
views on us. There is nothing objective or positive what- 
ever in him and in what he says. Indeed, from a philosoph- 
ical point of view, he does not need to fear destruction for 
he has perished already, since it is inherent in the nature of 
subjectivity to perish. One may in all fairness admit that 
his subjectivity is remarkable and that, be it as it may with 
the other miracles, he constantly repeats his miracle with 
the five small loaves,^" viz., by means of a few lyric utter- 
ances and some aphorisms he rouses the whole country. But 
even if one were inclined to overlook his insane notion of 
affirming himself to be God, it is an incomprehensible mis- 
take, which, to be sure, demonstrates a lack of philosophic 
training, to believe that God could reveal himself in the 
form of an individual. The race, the universal, the total, 
is God ; but the race surely is not an individual ! Generally 
speaking, that is the impudent assumption of subjectivity, 

-Matthew 14, 17. 

Selections from the Writings of Kierkegaard 193 

which claims that the individual is something extraordinary. 
But sheer insanity is shown in the claim of an individual 
to be God. Because if the insane thing were possible, viz. 
that an individual might be God, why, then this individual 
would have to be worshipped, and a more beastly philo- 
sophic stupidity is not conceivable." 

The astute statesman would reason as follows: "That at 
present this person wields great power is undeniable — en- 
tirely disregarding, of course, this notion of his that he is 
God. Foibles like these, being idiosyncrasies, do not count 
against a man and concern no one, least of all a statesman. 
A statesman is concerned only with what power a man 
wields ; and that he does wield great power cannot, as I have 
remarked, be denied. But what he intends to do, what his 
aim is, I cannot make out at all. If this be calculation it 
must be of an entirely new and peculiar order, not so alto- 
gether unlike what is otherwise called madness. He pos- 
sesses points of considerable strength ; but he seems to de- 
feat, rather than to use, it ; he expends it without himself 
getting any returns. I consider him a phenomenon with 
which — as ought to be one's rule with all phenomena — a 
wise man should not have anything to do, since it is im- 
possible to calculate him or the catastrophe threatening his 
life. It is possible that he will be made king. It is pos- 
sible, I say; but it is not impossible, or rather, it is just as- 
possible, that he may end on the gallows. He lacks earnest- 
ness in all his endeavors. With all his enormous stretch of 
wings he only hovers and gets nowhere. He does not seem 
to have any definite plan of procedure, but just hovers. Is 
it for his nationality he is fighting, or does he aim at a 
communistic revolution? Does he wish to establish a re- 
public or a kingdom? With which party does he affiliate 
himself to combat which party, or does he wish to fight all 

"I have anything to do with him? — No, that would be the 
very last thing to enter my mind. In fact, I take all pos- 
sible precautions to avoid him. I keep quiet, undertake 
nothing, act as if I did not exist ; for one cannot even calcu- 
late how he might interfere with one's undertakings, be they 

194 University of Texas Bulletin 

ever so unimportant, or at any rate, how one might become 
involved in the vortex of his activities. Dangerous, in a 
certain sense enormously dangerous, is this man. But I 
calculate that I may ensnare him precisely by doing noth- 
ing. For overthrown he must be. And this is done most 
safely by letting him do it himself, by letting him stumble 
over himself. I have, at least at this moment, not sufficient 
power to bring about his fall; in fact, I know no one who 
has. To undertake the least thing against him now, means 
to be crushed one's self. No, my plan is constantly to exert 
only negative resistance to him, that is, to do nothing, and 
he will probably involve himself in the enormous conse- 
quences he draws after him, till in the end he will tread on 
his own train, as it were, and thus fall." 

And the steady citizen would reason as follows (which 
would then become the opinion of his family) : "Now, let 
us be human, everything is good when done in moderation, 
too little and too much spoil everything, and as a French 
saying has it which I once heard a traveling salesman use : 
every power which exceeds itself comes to a fall — and as to 
this person, his fall is certainly sure enough, I have earn- 
estly spoken to my son and warned and admonished him not 
to drift into evil ways and join that person. And why? 
Because all people are running after him. That is to say, 
what sort of people? Idlers and loafers, street-walkers and 
tramps, who run after everything. But mightly few of the 
men who have house and property, and nobody who is wise 
and respected, none after whom I set my clock, neither 
councillor Johnson, nor senator Anderson, nor the wealthy 
broker Nelson — oh no ! they know what's what. And as to 
the ministry who ought to know most about such matters — 
ah, they will have none of him. What was it pastor Green 
said in the club the other evening? That man will yet come 
to a terrible end,' he said. And Green, he can do more than 
preach, you oughtn't to hear him Sundays in church so much 
as Mondays in the club — I just wished I had half his knowl- 
edge of affairs! He said quite correctly, and as if spoken 
out of my own heart : 'Only idlers and loafers are running 
after that man.' And why do they run after him? Be- 
cause he performs some miracles. But who is sure they are 

Selections from the Writings of Kierkegaard 195 

miracles, or that he can confer the same power on his dis- 
ciples? And, in any case, a miracle is somethng mightly 
uncertain, whereas the certain is the certain. Every se- 
rious father who has grown-up children must be truly 
alarmed lest his sons be seduced and join that man together 
with the desperate characters who follow him — desperate 
characters who have nothing to lose. And even these, how 
does he help them? Why, one must be mad to wish to be 
helped in this fashion. Even the poorest beggar is brought 
to a worse estate than his former one, is brought to a pass 
he could have escaped by remaining what he was, that is, 
a beggar and no more." 

And the mocker, not the one hated on account of his 
malice, but the one who is admired for his wit and liked for 
his good nature, he would reason as follows: "It is, after 
all, a rich idea which is going to prove useful to all of us, 
that an individual who is in no wise different from us claims 
to be God. If that is not being a benefactor of the race then 
I don't know what charity and beneficence are. If we as- 
sume that the characteristic of being God — well, who in all 
the world would have hit on that idea ? How true that such 
an idea could not have entered into the heart of man^' — but 
if we assume that it consists in looking in no wise different 
from the rest of us, and in nothing else : why, then we are 
all gods. Q. E. D. Three cheers for him, the inventor of 
a discovery so extraordinarily important for mankind ! To- 
morrow I, the undersigned, shall proclaim that I am God, 
and the discoverer at least will not be able to contradict me 
without contradicting himself. At night all cats are gray ; 
and if to be God consists in looking like the rest of us, abso- 
lutely and altogether like the rest of mankind: why, then 
it is night and we all are . . ., or what is it 1 wanted to say: 
we all are God, every one of us, and no one has a right to 
say he isn't as well off as his neighbor. This is the most 
ridiculous situation imaginable, the contradiction here being 
the greatest imaginable, and a contradiction always making 
for a comical effect. But this is in no wise my discovery, 
but solely that of the discoverer: this idea that a man of 
exactly the same appearance as the rest of us, only not half 

I'Cf. 1 Cor. 2, 9. 

196 University of Texas Bulletin 

so well dressed as the average man, that is, a poorly dressed 
person who, rather than being God, seems to invite the at- 
tention of the society for the relief of the poor — that he is 
God ! I am only sorry for the director of the charitable 
society that he will not get a raise from this general ad- 
vancement of the human race but that he will, rather, lose 
his job on account of this, etc." 

Ah, my friend, I know well what I am doing, I know my 
responsibility, and my soul is altogether assured of the cor- 
rectness of my procedure. Now then, imagine yourself a 
contemporary of him who invites. Imagine yourself to be 
a sufferer, but consider well to what you expose yourself 
in becoming his disciple and following him. You expose 
yourself to losing practically everything in the eyes of all 
wise and sensible and respected men. He who invites de- 
mands of you that you surrender all, give up everything; 
but the common sense of your own times and of your con- 
temporaries will not give you up, but will judge that to join 
him is madness. And mockery will descend cruelly upon 
you ; for while it will almost spare him, out of compassion, 
you will be thought madder than a march-hare for becoming 
his disciple. People will say : "That h e is a wrong-headed 
enthusiast, that can't be helped. Well and good ; but to be- 
come — in all seriousness — his disciple, that is the greatest 
piece of madness imaginable. There surely is but one pos- 
sibility of being madder than a madman, which is the higher 
madness of joining a madman in all seriousness and regard- 
ing him as a sage." 

Do not say that the whole presentation above is exagger- 
ated. Ah, you know (but, possibly, have not fully realized 
it) that among all the respectable men, among all the en- 
lightened and sensible men, there was but one — though it is 
easily possible that one or the other of them, impelled by 
curiosity, entered into conversation with him — that there 
was but one among them who sought him in all seriousness.'^ 
And he came to him — in the night! And as you know, in 
the night one walks on forbidden paths, one chooses the 
night to go to places of which one does not like to be known 
as a frequenter. Consider the opinion of the inviter implied 

"John 3, If. 

Selections from the Writings of Kierkegaard 197 

in this — it was a disgrace to visit him, something no man of 
honor could afford to do, as little as to pay a nightly visit 
to — but no, I do not care to say in so many words what 
would follow this "as little as." 

Come hither to me now all ye that labor and 
are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 


His end was what all the wise and the sensible, the states- 
men and the citizens and the mockers, etc., predicted it 
would be. And as was later spoken to him. in a jnoment 
when, it would seem, the most hardened ought to have been 
moved to sympathy, and the very stones to tears : "He saved 
others; let him save himself,"'-' and as it has been repeated 
thousands upon thousands of times, by thousands upon 
thousands: "What was it he spoke of before, saying his 
hour was not yet come-" — is it come now, perchance?" — 
It has been repeated, alas, the while the single individual, 
the believer, shudders whenever considering — while yet un- 
able to refrain from gazing into the depth of what to men 
is a meaningless absurdity — shudders when considering that 
God in human guise, that his divine teaching, that these 
signs and wonders which might have made a very Sodom 
and Gomorrha reform its ways, in reality produced the ex- 
act opposite, and caused the teacher to be shunned, hated, 

WTio he is, one can recognize more easily now when the 
powerful ones and the respected ones, and all the precau- 
tionary measures of those upholding the existing order, have 
corrected any wrong conception one might have entertained 
about him at first — now when the people have lost their pa- 
tience to wait for a Messiah, seeing that his life, instead 
of rising in dignity, lapsed into ever greater degradation. 
Who, pray, does not recognize that a man is judged accord- 
ing to the society in which he moves — ^and now, think of 
his society! Indeed, his society one might well designate 

i^Luke 23, 35. 
-"'John 2, 4, etc. 

198 University of Texas Bulletin 

as equivalent to being expelled from "human society" ; for 
his society are the lowest classes of the people, with sinners 
and publicans among them, people whom everybody with 
the slightest self-respect shuns for the sake of his good 
name and reputation — and a good name and reputation 
surely are about the least one can wish to preserve. In his 
company there are, furthermore, lepers whom every one 
flees, madmen who can only inspire terror, invalids and 
wretches — squalor and misery. Who, then, is this person 
that, though followed by such a company, still is the object 
of the persecution of the mighty ones? He is one despised 
as a seducer of men, an impostor, a blasphemer! And if 
any one enjoying a good reputation refrains from express- 
ing contempt of him, it is really only a kind of compassion ; 
for to fear him is, to be sure, something different. 

Such, then, is his appearance ; for take care not to be in- 
fluenced by anything that you may have learned after the 
event — as, how his exalted spirit, with an almost divine maj- 
esty, never was so m.arkedly manifest as just them. Ah, 
my friend, if you were the contemporary of one who is not 
only himself "excluded from the synagogue" but, as you 
will remember, whose very help meant being "excluded from 
the synagogue" — I say, if you were the contemporary of an 
outcast, who in every respect answers to that term, (for 
everything has two sides) : then you will scarcely be the 
man to explain all this in terms directly contrary to appear- 
ances;-^ or, which is the same thing, you will not be the 
"single individual" which, as you well know, no one wants to 
be, and to be which is regarded as a ridiculous oddity, per- 
haps even as a crime. 

And now — for they are his society chiefly — as to his apos- 
tles! What absurdity; though not — what new absurdity, 
for it is quite in keeping with the rest — his apostles are 
some fishermen, ignorant people who but the other day fol- 
lowed their trade. And tomorrow, to pile one absurdity on 
the other, they are to go out into the wide world and trans- 

^^The passage is not quite clear. Probably, you will not be the 
man to explain this phenomenon in the very opposite terms, viz., as 
the divinity himself. 

Selections from the Writings of Kierkegaard 199 

form its aspect. And it is he who claims to be God, and 
these are his duly appointed apostles! Now, is he to make 
his apostles respected, or are perhaps the apostles to make 
him respected? Is he, the inviter, is he an absurd dreamer? 
Indeed, his procession would make it seem so ; no poef could 
have hit on a better idea. A teacher, a sage, or whatever 
you please to call him, a kind of stranded genius, who affirms 
himself to be God — surrounded by a jubilant mob, himself 
accompanied by some publicans, criminals, and lepers ; near- 
est to him a chosen few, his apostles. And these judges so 
excellently competent as to what truth is, these fishermen, 
tailors, and shoe-makers, they do not only admire him, their 
teacher and master, whose every word is wisdom and truth : 
they do not only see what no one else can see, his exaltedness 
and holiness, nay, but they see God in him and worship 
him. Certainly, no poet could invent a better situation, and 
it is doubtful if the poet would not forget the additional item 
that this same person is feared by the mighty ones and that 
they are scheming to destroy him. His death alone can 
reassure and satisfy them. They have set an ignominious 
punishment on joining his company, on merely accepting aid 
from him ; and yet they do not feel secure, and cannot feel 
altogether reassured that the whole thing is mere wrong- 
headed enthusiasm and absurdity. Thus the mighty ones. 
The populace who had idolized him, the populace have pretty 
nearly given him up, only in moments does their old concep- 
tion of him blaze forth again. In all his existence there is 
not a shred the most envious of the envious might envy him 
to have. Nor do the mighty ones envy his life. They de- 
mand his death for safety's sake, so that they may have 
peace again, when all has returned to the accustomed ways, 
peace having been made still more secure by the warning 
example of his death. 

These are the two phases of his life. It began with the 
people's idolizing him, whereas all who were identified with 
the existing order of things, all who had power and influ- 
ence, vengef ully, but in a cowardly and hidden manner, laid 

200 University of Texas Bulletin 

their snares for him — in which he was caught, then? Yes, 
but he perceived it well. Finally the people discover that 
they had been deceived in him, that the fulfilment he would 
bring them answered least of all to their expectations of 
wonders and mountains of gold. So the people deserted 
him and the mighty ones drew the snare about him — in 
which he was caught, then? Yes, but he perceived it well. 
The mighty ones drew the snare together about him — and 
thereupon the people, who then saw themselves completely 
deceived, turned against him in hatred and rage. 

And — to include that too — compassion would say ; or, 
among the compassionate ones — for compassion is sociable, 
and likes to assemble together, and you will find spitefulness 
and envy keeping company with whining sof t-headedness : 
since, as a heathen philosopher observed long ago, no one is 
so ready to sympathize as an envious person — among the 
compassionate ones the verdict would be : it is really too bad 
that this good-hearted fellow is to come to such an end. 
For he was really a good sort of fellow. Granting it was an 
exaggeration to claim to be God, he really was good to the 
poor and the needy, even if in an odd manner, by becoming 
one of them and going about in the company of beggars. 
But there is something touching in it all, and one can't help 
but feel sorry for the poor fellow who is to suffer such a 
miserable death. For you may say what you will, and con- 
demn him as strongly as you will, I cannot help feeling 
pity for him. I am not so heard-hearted as not to feel com- 

We have arrived at the last phase, not of Sacred History, 
as handed down by the apostles and disciples who believed 
in Christ, but of profane history, its counterpart. 

Come hither now, all ye that labor and are heavy laden ; 
that is, if you feel the need, even if you are of all sufferers 
the most miserable — if you feel the need of being helped in 
this fashion, that is, to fall into still greater suffering, then 
come hither, he will help you. 

Selections from the Writings of Kierkegaard 201 


Let us forget for a little while what, 
in the strictest sense, constitutes the 
"offense"; which is, that the inviter 
claims to be God. Let us assume that 
he did not claim to be more than a man, 
and let us then consider the inviter 
and his invitation. 

The invitation is surely inviting enough. How, then, shall 
one explain the bad relation which did exist, this terribly 
wrong relation, that no one, or practically no one, accepted 
the invitation ; that, on the contrary, all, or practically all — 
alas! and was it not precisely all who were invited? — that 
practically all were at one in offering resistance to the in- 
viter. in wishing to put him to death, and in setting 
a punishment on accepting aid from him? Should one not 
expect that after an invitation such as he issued all, all who 
suffered, would come crowding to him, and that all they who 
were not suffering would crowd to him, touched by the 
thought of such compassion and mercy, and that thus the 
whole race would be at one in admiring and extolling the 
inviter? How is the opposite to be explained? For that 
this was the outcome is certain enough ; and the fact that it 
all happened in those remote times is surely no proof that 
the generation then living was worse than other genera- 
tions! How could any one be so thoughtless as to believe 
that? For whoever gives any thought to the matter will 
easily see that it happened in that generation only^ because 
they chanced to be contemporaneous with him. How then 
explain that it happened — that all came to that terribly 
wrong end, so opposite to what ought to have been expected ? 

Well, in the first place, if the inviter had looked the figure 
which purely human compassion w^ould have him be; and, 
in the second place, if he had entertained the purely human 

202 University of Texas Bulletin 

conception of what constitutes man's misery — why, then it 
would probably not have happened. 

In the first place: According to this human 
conception of him he should have been a most generous and 
sympathetic person, and at the same time possessed of all 
qualifications requisite for being able to help in all troubles 
of this world, ennobling the help thus extended by a pro- 
found and heartfelt human compassion. Withal (so they 
would imagine him) he should also have been a man of 
some distinction and not without a certain amount of human 
self-assertion — ^the consequence of which would be, however, 
that he would neither have been able, in his compassion, 
to reach down to all sufferers, nor yet to have comprehended 
fully what constitutes the misery of man and of mankind. 

But divine compassion, the infinite unconcern which 
takes thought only of those that suffer, and not in the least 
of one's self, and which with absolute unconcern takes 
thought of a 1 1 that suffer : that will always seem to men 
only a kind of madness, and they will ever be puzzled 
whether to laugh or to weep about it. Even if nothing else 
had militated against the inviter, this alone would have been 
sufficient to make his lot hard in the world. 

Let a man but try a little while to practice divine compas- 
sion, that is, to be somewhat unconcerned in his compassion, 
and you will at once perceive what the opinion of mankind 
would be. For example: let one who could occupy some 
higher rank in society, let him not (preserving all the while 
the distinction of his position) lavishly give to the poor, and 
philanthropically (i.e. in a superior fashion) visit the poor 
and the sick and the wretched — no, let him give up alto- 
gether the distinction of his position and in all earnest 
choose the company of the poor and the lowly, let him live 
altogether with the people, with workmen, hodmen, mortar- 
mixers, and the like ! Ah, in a quiet moment, when not actu- 
ally beholding him, most of us will be moved to tears by 
the mere thought of it ; but no sooner would they see him 
in this company — him who might have attained to honor and 
dignity in the world — see him walking along in such goodly 
company, with a bricklayer's apprentice on his right side 

Selections from the WHtings of Kierkegcuird 203 

and a cobbler's boy on his left, but — well, what then? First 
they would devise a thousand explanations to explain that it 
is because of queer notions, or obstinacy, or pride, or vanity 
that he chooses this mode of life. And even if they would 
refrain from attributing to him these evil motives they will 
never be reconciled with the sight of him — in this company. 
The noblest person in the world will be tempted to laugh, 
the moment he s e e s it. 

And if all the clergymen in the world, whether in velvet 
or in silk or in broadcloth or in satin, contradicted me I 
would say : "You lie, you only deceive people with your Sun- 
day sermons. Because it will always be possible for a con- 
temporary to say about one so compassionate (who, it is 
to be kept in mind, is our contemporary) : "I believe he is 
actuated by vanity, and that is why I laugh and mock at 
him; but if he were truly compassionate, or had I been 
contemporary with him, the noble one — why then!" And 
now, as to those exalted ones "who were not understood 
by men" — to speak in the fashion of the usual run of ser- 
mons — why, sure enough, they are dead. In this fashion 
these people succeed in playing hide and seek. You simply 
assume that every contemporary who ventures out so far 
is actuated only by vanity; and as to the departed, you as- 
sume that they are dead and that they, therefore, were 
among the glorious ones. 

It must be remembered, to be sure, that every person 
wishes to maintain his own level in lif6, and this fixed point, 
this steady endeavor, is one of the causes which limit 
human compassion to a certain sphere. The cheese- 
monger will think that to live like the inmate of a poorhouse 
is going too far in expressing one's sympathy ; for the sym- 
pathy of the cheese-monger is biased in one regard which is. 
his regard of the opinion of other cheese-mongers and of the 
saloon-keepers. His compassion is therefore not without 
its limitations. And thus with every class — and the jour- 
nalists, living as they do on the pennies of the poor, under 
the pretense of asserting and defending their rights, they 
would be the first to heap ridicule on this unlimited com- 

204 University of Texas Bulletin 

To identify one's self wholly and lit- 
erally with him who is most miserable 
(and this, only this, is divine compassion), that is to 
men the "too much" by which one is moved to tears, in a 
quiet Sunday hour, and about which one unconsciously bursts 
into laughter when one sees it in reality. The fact is, it 
is too exalted a sight for daily use ; one must have it at some 
distance to be able to support it. Men are not so familiar 
with exalted virtue to believe it at once. The contradiction 
seen here is, therefore, that this exalted virtue manifests 
itself in — reality, in daily life, quite literally the daily life. 
When the poet or the orator illustrates this exalted virtue, 
that is, pictures it in a poetical distance from real life, men 
are moved; but to see this exalted virtue in reality, the 
reality of daily life, here in Copenhagen, on the Market 
Square, in the midst of busy every-day life — ! And when 
the poet or the orator does touch people it is only for a short 
time, and just so long are men able to believe, almost, in 
this exalted virtue. But to see it in real life every 
d a y — ! To be sure, there is an enormous contradiction in 
the statement that the most exalted of all has become the 
most every-day occurrence! 

Insofar, then, it was certain in advance what would be 
the inviter's fate, even if nothing else had contributed to his 
doom. The absolute,-- or all which makes for an absolute 
standard, becomes by that very fact the victim. For men 
are willing enough to practice sympathy and self-denial, 
are willing enough to strive for wisdom, etc. ; but they wish 
themselves to determine the standard and to have that read : 
"to a certain degree." They do not wish to do away with 
all these splendid virtues. On the contrary, they want — 
at a bargain and in all comfort — to have the appearance and 
the name of practicing them. Truly divine compassion is 
therefore necessarily the victim so soon as it shows itself 
in this world. It descends on earth out of compassion for 
mankind, and yet it is mankind who trample upon it. Ana 
whilst it is wandering about among them, scarcely even the 

'-'^'Here, the unreserved identification with human suffering above 
referred to. 

Selectiotis from the Writings of Kierkegaard 205 

sufferer dares to flee to it, for fear of mankind. The fact 
is, it is most important for the world to keep up the appear- 
ance of being compassionate ; but this it made out by divine 
compassion to be a falsehood — and therefore: away with 
divine compassion! 

But now the inviter represented precisely this divine com- 
passion — and therefore he was sacrificed, and therefore even 
those that suffered fled from him; for they comprehended 
(and, humanly speaking, very exactly) , what is true of most 
human infirmities, that one is better off to remain what 
one is than to be helped by him. 

In the second place: the inviter likewise had an 
other, and altogether different, conception than the purely 
human one as to what constitutes man's misery. And in 
this sense only he was intent on helping; for he had with 
him neither money, nor medicine, nor anything else of th 

Indeed, the inviter's appearance is so altogether differ- 
ent from what human compassion wold imagine it that he 
is a downright offense to men. In a purely human sense 
there is something positively cruel — something outrageous, 
something so exasperating as to make one wish to kill that 
person — in the fact of his inviting to him the poor and the 
sick and the suffering, and then not being able to do any- 
thing for them, except to promise them remission of their 
sins. '"Let us be human, man is no spirit. And when a 
person is about to die of starvation and you say to him: 
I promise you the gracious remission of your sins — that is 
revolting cruelty. In fact it is ridiculous, though too se- 
rious a matter to laugh about." 

Well (for in quoting these sentiments I wish merely to 
let offended man discover the contradiction and exaggerate 
it — it is not I who wish to exaggerate), well then, the real 
intention of the inviter was to point out that sin i s t h e 
destruction of mankind. Behold now, that makes 
room, as the invitation also made room, almost as if he had 
said procul, o procul este profani, or as if, even though he 
had not said it, a voice had been heard which thus interpret- 
ed the "come hither" of the invitation. There surelv are not 

206 University of Texas Bulletin 

many sufferers who will follow the invitation. And even 
if there were one who, although aware that from this in- 
viter no actual wordly help was to be expected, never- 
theless had sought refuge with him, touched by his com- 
passion: now even he will flee from him. For is it not al- 
most a bit of sharp practice to profess to be here out of 
compassion, and then to speak about sin? 

Indeed, it is a piece of cunning, unless you are altogether 
certain that you are a sinner. If it is tooth-ache which 
bothers you, or if your house is burned to the ground, but 
if it has escaped you that you are a sinner — why, then it was 
cunning on his part. It is a bit of sharp practice of him to 
assert : "I heal all manner of disease," in order to say, when 
one approaches him : "the fact is, I recognize only one dis- 
ease, which is sin — of that I shall cure all them 'that labor 
and are heavy laden,' all them that labor to work themselves 
free of the power of sin, that labor to resist the evil, and to 
vanquish their weakness, but succeed only in being laden." 
Of this malady he cures "all" persons; even if there were 
but a single one who turned to him because of this malady : 
he heals all persons. But to come to him on account of any 
other disease, and only because of that, is about as useful 
as to look up an eye-doctor when you have fractured your 


With its invitation to all "that labor and are heavy laden" 
Christianity has entered the world, not — as the clergy 
whimperingly and falsely introduce it — as a shining para- 
gon of mild grounds of consolation; but as the absolute. 
God wills it so because of His love, but it is God who 
wills it, and He wills it as He wills it. He does not choose 
to have His nature changed by man and become a nice, that 
is to say, humane, God ; but He chooses to change the nature 
of man because of His love for them. Neither does He 
care to hear any human impertinence concerning the why 
and wherefore of Christianity, and why it entered the world : 

Selections from the WHtings of Kierkegaard 207 

it is, and is to be, the absolute. Therefore all the relative 
explanations which may have been ventured as to its why 
and wherefore are entirely beside the point. Possibly, these 
explanations were suggested by a kind of human compas- 
sion which believes it necessary to haggle a bit — God very 
likely does not know the nature of man very well, His de- 
mands are a bit exorbitant, and therefore the clergymen 
must haggle and beat Him down a bit.-" IVIaybe the clergj'' 
hit upon that idea in order to stand well with men and reap 
some advantage from preaching the gospel; for if its de- 
mands are reduced to the purely human, to the demands 
which arise in man's heart, why, then men will of course 
think well of it, and of course also of the amiable preacher 
who knows how to make Christianity so mild — if the Apos- 
tles had been able to do that the world would have esteemed 
them highly also in their time. However, all this is the 
absolute. But what is it good for, then — is it not a dowTi- 
right torment ? Why, yes, you may say so : from the stand- 
point of the relative, the absolute is the greatest torment. 
In his dull, lanquid, sluggish moments, when man is dom- 
inated by his sensual nature, Christianity is an absurdity 
to him since it is not commensurable with any definite 
"wherefore?" But of what use is it, then? Answer: peace! 
it is the absolute. And thus it must be represented ; 
that is, in a fashion which makes it appear as an absurdity 
to the sensual nature of man. And therefore is it, ah, so 
true and, in still another sense, so true when the worldly- 
wise man who is contemporaneous with Christ condemns 
him with the words : "he is literally nothin g" — 
quite true, for he is the absolute. And, being absolute, 
Christianity has come in the world, not as a consolation 
in the human sense ; in fact, quite on the contrary, it is ever 
reminding one how the Christian must suffer in order to 
become, or to remain, a Christian — sufferings which he 
may, if you please, escape by not electing to be a Christian. 
There is, indeed, an unbridgeable gulf fixed between God 
and man. It therefore became plain to those contemporary 

2''Cf. note p. 178. 

208 University of Texas Bulletin 

with Christ that the process of becoming a Christian (that 
is, being changed into the likeness of God) is, in a human 
sense, a greater torment and wretchedness and pain than 
the greatest conceivable human suffering, and moreover a 
crime in the eyes of one's contemporaries. And thus will 
it always be; that is, if becoming a Christian in reality 
means becoming contemporaneous with Christ. And if be- 
coming a Christian does not have that meaning, then all 
your chatter about becoming a Christian is a vanity, a de- 
lusion and a snare, and likewise a blasphemy and a sin 
against the Holy Ghost. 

For with regard to the absolute there is but one time, 
viz. the present. He who is not contemporaneous with the 
absolute, for him it does not exist at all. And since Christ 
is the absolute, it is evident that in respect of him there 
is but one situation : contemporaneousness. The three, or 
seven, or fifteen, or seventeen, or eighteen hundred years 
which have elapsed since his death do not make the least 
difference, one way or the other. They neither change him 
nor reveal, either, who he was; for his real nature is re- 
vealed only to faith. 

Christ, let me say so with the utmost seriousness, is not 
an actor; neither is he a merely historical personage since, 
being the paradox, he is an extremely unhistorical person- 
age. But precisely this is the difference between poetry and 
reality: contemporaneousness.-^ The difference between 
poetry and history is no doubt this, that history is what has 
really happened, and poetry, what is possible, the action 
which is supposed to have taken place, the life which has 
taken form in the poet's imagination. But that which really 
happened (the past) is not necessarily reality, except in 
a certain sense, viz., in contrast with poetry. There is still 
lacking in it the criterion of truth (as inwardness) and of 
all religion, there is still lacking the criterion : thetruth 
FOR YOU. That which is past is not a reality — for me, but 

^*As my friend, H. M. Jones, points out, the following passage is 
essentially Aristotelian: "The true difference is that one (history) 
relates what has happened, the other (poetry) what may happen"; 
"Poetics," Chap. IX. 

Selections from the Writings of Kierkegaard 209 

only my time is. That which you are contemporaneous 
with, that is reality' — for you. Thus every person has the 
choice to be contemporaneous with the age in which he is 
living — and also with one other period, with that of Christ's 
life here on earth; for Christ's life on earth, or Sacred 
History, stands by itself, outside of history. 

History you may read and hear about as a matter of the 
past. Within its realm you can, if you so care, judge actions 
by their results. But in Christ's life here on earth there is 
nothing past. It did not wait for the assistance of any sub- 
sequent results in its own time, 1800 years ago; neither 
does it now. Historic Christianity is sheer moonshine and 
un-Christian muddle-headedness. For those true Christians 
who in every generation live a life contemporaneous with 
that of Christ have nothing whatsoever to do with Chris- 
tians of the preceding generation, but all the more with 
their contemporary, Christ. His life here on earth attends 
every generation, and every generation severally, as Sacred 
History; his life on earth is eternal contemporaneousness. 
For this reason all learned lecturing about Christianity, 
which has its haunt and hiding-place in the assumption that 
Christianity is something which belongs to the past and to 
the 1800 years of history, this lecturing is the most un- 
Christian of heresies, as every one would readily recognize 
if he but tried to imagine the generation contemporeanous 
with Christ as — lecturing ! No, we must ever keep in mind 
that ever\' generation (of the faithful) is contemporaneous 
with him. "^ 

If you cannot master yourself so as to make yourself con- 
temporaneous with him and thus become a Christian ; or if 
he cannot, as your contemporary', draw you to himself, then 
you will never be a Christian. You may, if you please, 
honor, praise, thank, and with all worldly goods reward, 
him who deludes you into thinking that you are a Chris- 
tian ; nevertheless — he deceives you. You may count your- 
self happy that you were not contemporaneous with one who 
dared to assert this ; or you may be exasperated to madness 
by the torment, like that of the "gadfly,-^ of being contem- 

-•"'Cf. Plato's "Apologia" where Socrates is made to say of himself 
that he is inflicted on the Athenians like a gadfly on a horse, in order 
to keep them awake. 

210 University of Texas Bulletin 

poraneous with one who says this to your face : in the first 
case you are deceived, whereas in the second you have ai 
least had a chance to hear the truth. 

If you cannot bear this contemporaneousness, and not bear 
to see this sight in reality — if you cannot prevail upon your- 
self to go out into the street — and behold ! it is God in that 
loathsome procession ; and if you cannot bear to think that 
this will be your condition also if you kneel and worship 
him : then you are not essentially a Christian. In 
that case, what you will have to do is to admit the fact un- 
conditionally to yourself, so that you may, above all, pre- 
serve humility, and fear and trembling, when contemplat- 
ing what it means really to be a Christian. For that way 
you must proceed, in order to learn and to practice how 
to flee to grace, so that you will not seek it in vain; but 
do not, for God's sake, go to any one to be "consoled." 
For to be sure it is written : "blessed are the eyes which see 
the things that ye see,"-" which word the priests have on 
the tips of their tongues — curiously enough; at times, per- 
haps, even to defend a worldly finery which, if contem- 
porary with Christ, would be rather incongruous-— as if 
these words had not been said solely about those con- 
temporaries of his who believed. If his exaltation had been 
evident to the eyes so that every one without any trouble 
could have beheld it, why then it would be incorrect to say 
that Christ abased himself and assumed the guise of a ser- 
vant, and it would be superflous to warn against being of- 
fended in him ; for why in the world should one take offense 
in an exalted one arrayed in glory? And how in the world 
will you explain it that Christ fared so ill and that every- 
body failed to rush up admiringly to behold what was so 
plain? Ah no, "he hath no form nor comeliness; and when 
we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire 
him" (Isaiah 53, 2*); and there was to all appear- 
ances nothing remarkable about him who in lowly guise, 
and by performing signs and wonders, constantly presented 
the possibility of offense, who claimed to be God — in lowly 

^«Luke 10, 23. 

* Kierkegaard's own note. 

Selections from the WHtings of Kierkegaard 211 

guise; which therefore expresses: in the first place, what 
God means by compassion, and by one's self needing to be 
humble and poor if one wishes to be compassionate ; and in 
the second place, what God means by the misery of man- 
kind. Which, again, in both instances is extremely differ- 
ent from what men mean by these things and which every 
generation, to the end of time, has to learn over again from 
the beginning, and beginning in every respect at the same 
point where those who were contemporary with Christ had 
to start ; that is, to practice these things as contemporaries 
of Christ. Human impatience and unruliness is, of course, 
of no avail whatsoever. No man will be able to tell you in 
how far you may succeed in becoming essentially a Chris- 
tian. But neither will anxiety and fear and despair help 
one. Sincerity toward God is the first and the last condi- 
tion, sincerity in confessing to one's self just where one 
stands, sincerity before God in ever aiming at one's task. 
However slowly one may proceed, and if it be but crawl- 
ing — one is, at any rate, in the right position and is not 
misled and deceived by the trick of changing the nature of 
Christ who, instead of being God, is thereby made to rep- 
resent that sentimental compassion which is man's own 
invention ; by which men, instead of being lifted up to 
heaven by Christianity, are delayed on their way and re- 
main human and no more. 


"And what, then, does all this signify?" It signifies that 
every one, in silent inwardness before God, is to feel humil- 
ity before what it means to be in the strictest sense a Chris- 
tian ; is to confess sincerely before God what his position is, 
so that he may worthily partake of the grace which is of- 
fered to every one who is not perfect, that is, to every one. 
And it means no more than that. For the rest let him at- 
tend to his work and find joy in it, let him love his wife. 

212 University of Texas Bulletin 

rejoicing in her, let him raise his children to be a joy to 
him, and let him love his fellow-men and enjoy life. God 
will surely let him know if more is demanded of him, and 
will also help him to accomplish it; for in the terrifying 
language of the law this sounds so terrible because it would 
seem as if man by his own strength were to hold fast to 
Christ, whereas in the language of love it is Christ that 
holds fast to him. As was said, then, God will surely let 
him know if mpre is demanded of h i m. But what is de- 
manded of every one is that he humble himself in the pres- 
ence of God under the demands of ideality. And there- 
fore these demands should be heard, and heard again and 
again in all their absoluteness. To be a Christian has be- 
come a matter of no importance whatever — a mummery, 
something one is anyway, or something one acquires more 
readily than a trick. In very truth, it is high time that the 
demands of ideality were heard. 

"But if being a Christian is something so terrifying and 
awesome, how in all the world can a man get it into his 
head to wish to accept Christianity?" Very simply and, 
if you so wish, quite according to Luther: only the con- 
sciousness of sin, if I may express myself so, can force one 
— from the other side, grace exerts the attraction — can force 
one into this terror. And in the same instant the Chris- 
tian ideal is transformed, and is sheer mildness, grace, love, 
and pity. Looking at it any other way, however, Chris- 
tianity is, and shall ever be, the greatest absurdity, or else 
the greatest terror. Approach is had only through the con- 
sciousness of sin, and to desire to enter by any other way 
amounts to a crime of lese-majeste against Christianity. 

But sin, or the fact that you and I, individually, are sin- 
ners, has at present either been done away with, or else 
the demands have been lowered in an unjustifiable manner, 
both in life — the domestic, the civic, as well as the ecclesi- 
astic — and in science which has invented the new doc- 
trine of sin in general. As an equivalant, one has hit 
upon the device of helping men into Christianity, and keep- 
ing them in it, by the aid of a knowledge of world-historic 
events, of that mild teaching, the exalted and profound 

Selections from the Writings of Kierkegaard 213 

spirit of it, about Christ as a friend, etc., etc. — all of which 
Luther would have called stuff and nonsense and which is 
really blasphemy, aiming as it does at fraternizing impu- 
dently with God and with Christ. 

Only the consciousness of being a sinner can inspire one 
with absolute respect for Christianity. And just because 
Christianity demands absolute respect it must and shall, 
to any other way of looking at it, seem absurdity or terror ; 
just because only thereby can the qualitative and absolute 
emphasis fall on the fact that it is only the consciousness 
of being a sinner which will procure entrance into it, and 
at the same time give the vision which, being absolute re- 
spect, enables one to see the mildness and love and compas- 
sion of Christianity. 

The poor in spirit who acknowledge themselves to be 
sinners, they do not need to know the least thing about the 
difficulties which appear when one is neither simple nor 
humble-minded. But when this humble consciousness of 
one's self, i. e., the individual's, being a sinner is lacking — 
aye, even though one possessed all human ingenuity and 
wisdom, and had all accomplishments possible to man: it 
will profit him little. Christianity will in the same degree 
rise terrifying before him and transform itself into absurd- 
ity or terror ; until he learns, either to renounce it, or else, 
by the help of what is nothing less than scientific propaedeu- 
tics, apologetics, etc., that is, through the torments of a 
contrite heart, to enter into Christianity by the narrow 
path, through the consciousness of sin. 


(No. I, 1) 

Plato says somewhere in his "Republic" that things will 
go well only when those men shall govern the state who do 
not desire to govern. The idea is probably that, assuming 
the necessary capability, a man's reluctance to govern af- 
fords a good guarantee that he will govern well and effi- 
ciently; whereas a man desirous of governing may very 
easily either abuse his power and become a tyrant, or by 
his desire to govern be brought into an unforeseen situation 
of dependence on the people he is to rule, so that his govern- 
ment really becomes an illusion. 

This observation applies also to other relations where 
much depends on taking things seriously: assuming there 
is ability in a man, it is best that he show reluctance to 
meddle with them. To be sure, as the proverb has it: 
"where there is a will there is a way" ; but true seriousness 
appears only when a man fully equal to his task is forced, 
against his will, to undertake it — against his will, but fully 
equal to the task. 

In this sense I may say of myself that I bear a correct 
relation to the task in hand: to work in the present mo- 
ment; for God knows that nothing is more distasteful to 

Authorship — well, I confess that I find it pleasant; and 
I may as well admit that I have dearly loved to write — 
in the manner, to be sure, which suits me. And what I 
have loved to do is precisely the opposite of working in the 
present moment. What I have loved is precisely remote- 
ness from the present moment — that remoteness in which, 
like a lover, I may dwell on my thoughts and, like an artist 
in love with his instrument, entertain myself with language 
and lure from it the expressions demanded by my thoughts 

^ Selections. 

Selections from the Writings of Kierkegaard 215 

— ah blissful entertainment! In an eternity I should not 
weary of this occupation. 

To contend with men — well, I do like it in a certain sense ; 
for I have by nature a temperament so polemic that I feel 
in my element only when surrounded by men's mediocrity 
and meanness. But only on one condition, viz., that I be 
permitted to scorn them in silence and to satisfy the master 
passion of my soul: scorn — opportunity for which my ca- 
reer as an author has often enough given me. 

I am therefore a man of whom it may be said truthfully 
that he is not in the least desirous to work in the present 
moment — very probably I have been called to do so for that 
very reason. 

Now that I am to work in the present moment I must, 
alas ! say farewell to thee, beloved remoteness, where there 
was no necessity to hurry, but always plenty of time, where 
I could wait for hours and days and weeks for the proper 
expression to occur to me ; whereas now I must break with 
all such regards of tender love. -And now that I am to 
work in the present moment I find that there will be not a 
few persons whom I must oblige by paying my respects to 
all the insignificant things which mediocrity with great 
self-importance will lecture about ; to all the nonsense which 
mediocre people, by interpreting into my words their own 
mediocrity, will find in all I shall write; and to all the lies 
and calumnies to which a man is exposed against whom 
those two great powers in society : envy and stupidity, must 
of necessity conspire. 

Why, then, do I wish to work in the present moment? 
Because I should forever repent of not having done so, and 
forever repent of having beeil discouraged by the consid- 
eration that the generation now living would find a repre- 
sentation of the essential truths of Christianity interesting 
and curious reading, at most; having accomplished which 
they will calmly remain where they are; that is, in the 
illusion that they are Christians and that the clergy's toy- 
ing with Christianity really is Christianity. 

^The following sentence is not clear in the original. 

216 University of Texas Bulletin 


(No. II, 5) 

In the New Testament the Savior of the World, our Lord 
Jesus Christ, represents the matter in this way: "Strait is 
the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, 
and few there be that find it.^" 

— now, however, just to confine ourselves to Denmark, the 
way is as broad as a road can possibly be ; in fact, the broad- 
est in Denmark, for it is the road we all travel. At the 
same time it is in all respects a comfortable way, and the 
gate as wide as it is possible for a gate to be ; for certainly 
a gate cannot be wider than to let all men pass through 
en masse: 

therefore, the New Testament is no longer true. 

All credit is due to the human race ! For thou, oh Savior 
of the World, thou didst entertain too low an estimaite of 
the human race, so that thou didst not foresee the exalted 
plan which, in its perfectibility, it may reach by steadily 
continued endeavor! 

To such an extent, then, is the New Testament no longer 
true: the way is the broadest possible, the gate the widest 
possible, and we are all Christians. In fact, I may venture 
still further — I am enthusiastic about it, for you see I am 
writing a panegyric on the human race — I venture to as- 
sert that the average Jew living among us is, to a certain 
degree, a Christian just as well as we others : to such an 
extent are we all Christians, and to such an extent is the 
New Testament no longer true. 

And, since the point is to find out all which may be ad- 
duced to extol the human race, one ought — while having a 
care not to mention anything which is not true — one ought 
to watch that nothing, nothing escape one which in this 
connection may serve as a proof or even as a suggestion. 
So I venture still further — without wishing to be too posi- 
tive, as I lack definite information on this subject and 

"Matthew 7, 14. 

Selections from the Writings of Kierkegaard 217 

would like, therefore, to refer the matter to specialists in 
this line to decide — : whether there are not present among 
our domestic animals, or at any rate the nobler ones, such 
as the horse, the dog, and the cow, indications of a Christian 
spirit. It is not improbable. Consider what it means to 
live in a Christian state, among a Christian people, where 
everything is Christian and everybody is a Christian and 
where one, turn where one may, sees nothing but Christians 
and Christianity, truth and martyrs for the truth — it is not 
at all unlikely that this exerts an influence on the nobler* 
domestic animals and thereby again — which is ever of the 
utmost importance, according to the opinion both of vet- 
erinarians and of clergjnnen — an influence on their pro- 
geny. We have all read of Jacob's ruse, how in order to 
obtain spotted lambs he put party-colored twigs into the 
watering troughs, so that the ewes saw nothing but mottled 
things and then brought forth spotted lambs. Hence it is 
not improbable — although I do not wish to be positive, since 
I do not belong to the profession, but would rather have 
this passed on by a committee composed of both clergjTnen 
and veterinarians — I say, it is not improbable that the re- 
sult will finally be that the domestic animals living in a 
Christian nation will produce a Christian progeny. The 
thought almost takes away my breath. To be sure, in that 
case the New Testament will to the greatest possible extent 
have ceased to be true. 

Ah, Thou Savior of the World, when Thou saidst with 
great concern: "When the Son of man cometh, shall He 
find Faith on the earth?"* — and when Thou didst bow Thy 
head in death, then didst Thou least of all think that Thy 
expectations were to be exceeded to such a degree, and that 
the human race would in such a pretty and touching way 
render the New Testament no longer true, and Th^' sig- 
nificance almost doubtful; for such nice creatures certainly 
also needed a Savior I^ 

*Luke 18, 8. 

■'The last line of this piece of bloody irony is not clear in the orig- 
inal (S. V. XIII, 128). It will make better sense if one substitutes 
"da" for the first "de." 

218 University of Texas Bulletin 

(No. II, 8) 

If it is not so — that all we mean bj^ being "Christians" 
is a delusion — that all this machinery, with a State Church 
and thousands of spiritual-worldly councillors of chancery, 
etc., is a stupendous delusion which will not be of the least 
help to us in the life everlasting but, on the contrary, will 
be turned into an accusation against us — if this is not so; 
for if it is, then let us, for the sake of life everlasting, get 
rid of it, the sooner the better — 

if it is not so, and if what we understand by being a 
Christian really is to be a Christian : then what is God in 
Heaven ? 

He is the most ridiculous being that ever existed. His 
Word is the most ridiculous book which has ever appeared ; 
for to move heaven and earth, as He does in his Word, and 
to threaten with hell and everlasting damnation — in order 
to obtain as His result what we understand by being Chris- 
tians (and our assumption was that we a r e true Chris- 
tians) — well, now, has anything so ridiculous ever been 
seen before? Imagine that a fellow with a loaded pistol 
in his hand held up a person and said to him, "I shall shoot 
you"; or imagine, what is still more terrible, that he said, 
"I shall seize you and torture you to death in the most hor- 
rible manner, if" — now watch, here's the point — "if you do 
not render your life here on earth as profitable and as en- 
joyable as you can": would not that be utterly ridiculous? 
For to obtain that effect it certainly is not necessary to 
threaten one with a loaded pistol and the most painful tor- 
ture; in fact, it is possible that neither the loaded pistol 
nor the most painful torture would be able to deter him 
from making his life as comfortable as he can. And the 
same is true when, by fear of eternal punishment (terrible 
threat!), and by hope of eternal salvation, He wishes to 
bring about — well, to make us what we a r e (for what 
we call Christian is, as we have seen, really being Chris- 
tian), to make us — well, to make us what we are; that is, 
make men live as they please ; for to abstain from com- 
mitting crimes is nothing but common prudence! 

Selections from the Writings of Kierkegaard 219 

The most terrible blasphemy is the one of which "Chris- 
tianity" is guilty, which is, to transform the God of the 
Spirit into — a ridiculous piece of nonsense. And the stu- 
pidest kind of worship, more stupid than any idolatry ever 
was among the heathen, and more stupid than to worship 
as a god some stone, or an ox, or an insect — more stupid 
than anything, is to adore as god — a fool! 


(No. IV, 1) 


Every physician will admit that by the correct diagnosis 
of a malady more than half the fight against it is won; 
also, that if a correct diagnosis has not been made, all skill 
and all care and attention will be of little avail. 

The same is true with regard to religion. 

We are agreed to let stand the claim that in "Christen- 
dom" we are Christians, every one of us ; and then we have 
laid and, perhaps, will lay, emphasis now on this, now on 
that, side of the teachings of the Scriptures. 

But the truth is: we are not only not Christians — no, 
we are not even the heathen to whom Christianity may 
be taught without misgivings, and what is worse, we are 
prevented through a delusion, an enormous delusion (viz. 
"Christendom," the Christian state, a Christian country, 
a Christian world) from becoming Christians. 

And then the suggestion is made to one to continue un- 
touched and unchanged this delusion and, rather, to fur- 
nish a new presentation of the teachings of Christ.*^ 

This has been suggested; and, in a certain sense, it is 
altogether fitting. Just because one lives in a delusion 
(not to speak even of being interested in keeping up the 
delusion), one is bound to desire that which will feed the 

^This suggestion had actually been made to Kierkegaard in the 
course of his attacks on Martensen. 

220 University of Texas Bulletin 

malady — a common enough observation this — the sick man 
desiring precisely those things which feed his malady. 

Imagine a hospital. The patients are dying off like so 
many flies. The methods are changed, now this way, now 
that: of no avail! What may be the cause? The cause 
lies in the building — the whole building is tainted. The 
patients are put down as having died, the one of this, the 
other of that, disease, but strictly speaking this is not true ; 
for they all died from the taint which is in the building. 

The same is true in religion. That religious conditions 
are wretched, and that people in respect of their religion 
are in a wretched condition, nothing is more certain. So 
one ventures the opinion that if we could but have a new 
hymn-book; and another, if we could but have a new serv- 
ice-book; and a third, if we could but have a musical serv- 
ice, etc., etc. — that then matters would mend. 

In vain; for the fault lies in the edifice. The whole 
ramshackle pile of a State Church which has not been 
aired, spiritually speaking, in times out of mind — the air 
in it has developed a taint. And therefore religious life 
has become diseased or has died out; alas, for precisely 
that which the worldly mind regards as health is, in a 
Christian sense, disease — ^just as, vice versa, that which is 
healthy in a Christian sense, is regarded as diseased from 
a worldly point of view. 

Then let the ramshackle pile collapse, get it out of the 
way, close all these shops and booths which are the only 
ones which are excepted from the strict Sunday regula- 
tions, forbid this official double-dealing, put them out of 
commission, and provide for them, for all these quacks : — 
even though it is true that the royally attested physician 
is the acceptable one, and he who is not so attested is a 
quack: in Christianity it is just the reverse; that is, the 
royally attested teacher is the quack, is a quack by the 
very fact that he is royally attested — and let us worship 
God again in simplicity, instead of making a fool of him 

Selections from the Writings of Kierkegaard 221 

in splendid edifices; let us be in earnest again and stop 
playing; for a Christianity preached by royal officials who 
are payed and insured by the state and who use the police 
against the others, such a Christianity bears about the same 
relation to the Christianity of the New Testament as 
swimming with the help of a cork-belt or a bladder does 
to swimming alone — it is mere play. 

Yes, let that come about. What Christianity needs is 
not the stifling protection of the state — ah no, it needs 
fresh air, it needs persecution and — the protection of God. 
The state does only mischief in averting persecution and 
surely is not the medium through which God's protection 
can be conducted. Whatever you do, save Christianity 
from the state, for with its protection it overlies Chris- 
tianity like a fat woman overlying her child with her car- 
cass, beside teaching Christianity' the most abominable 
bad habits — as, e.g., to use the police force "and to call 
that Christianity. 

A person is growing thinner every day and is wasting 
away. What may the trouble be? For surely he is not 
suffering want! "No, sure enough," says the doctor, "that 
is not the trouble. The trouble is precisely with his eat- 
ing, with his eating in season and out of season, with his 
eating without being hungry, with his using stimulants to 
produce an appetite, and in this manner ruining his di- 
gestion, so that he is wasting away as if he suffered want." 

The same is true in religion. The worst of all is to 
satisfy a craving which has not as yet made its appear- 
ance, to anticipate it, or — worse still — by the help of stim- 
ulants to produce something which looks like a craving, 
which then is promptly satisfied. Ah, the shame of it! 
And yet this is exacth' what is being done in religion where 
people are in very truth fooled out of the real meaning of 
life and helped to waste their lives. That is in very truth, 
the effect of this whole machinerv of a state church and a 

222 University of Texas Bulletin 

thousand royal ofRcials who, under the pretense of being 
spiritual guides for the people, trick them out of the high- 
est thing in life, which is, the solicitude about one's self, 
and the need which would surely of itself find a teacher 
or minister after its own mind; whereas now the need — 
and it is just the growth of this sense, of a need which 
gives life its highest significance — whereas now this need 
does not arise at all, but on the contrary is forestalled by 
being satisfied long before it can arise. And this is the 
way, they claim, this is the way to continue the work which 
the Savior of Mankind did begin — stunting the human race 
as they do. And why is this so? Because there happen 
to be a thousand and one royal officials who have to support 
their families by furnishing what is called — spiritual guid- 
ance for men's souls ! 



(No. V, 4) 

The intention of Christianity was : to change every- 

The result, the Christianity of "Christendom" is: every- 
thing, literally everything, remained as it had been, with 
just the difference that to everything was affixed the at- 
tribute "Christian" — and for the rest (strike up, fiddlers!) 
we live in Heathendom — so merrily, so merrily the dance 
goes around; or, rather, we live in a Heathendom made 
more refined by the help of Life Everlasting and by help 
of the thought that, after all, it is all Christian! 

Try it, point to what you will, and you shall see that I 
am right in my assertion. 

If what Christianity demanded was chastity, then away 
with brothels! But the change is that the brothels have 
remained just as they did in Heathendom, and the propor- 
tion of prostitutes remained the same, too; to be sure, they 
became "Christian" brothels! A brothel-keeper is a 
"Christian" brothel-keeper, he is a Christian as well as we 

Selection.s from the Writiiigs of Kierkegaard 223 

others. Exclude him from church membership? "Why, 
for goodness sake," the clergyman will say, "what would 
things come to if we excluded a single paying member?" 
The brothel-keeper dies and gets a funeral oration with a 
panegyric in proportion to the amount he pays. And after 
having earned his money in a manner which, from a Chris- 
tian point of view, is as filthy and base as can be (for, 
from a Christian point of view it would be more honorable 
if he had stolen it) the clergyman returns home. He is in 
a hurry, for he is to go to church in order to deliver an 
oration or, as Bishop Martensen would say, "bear witness." 

But if Christianity demanded honesty and uprightness, 
and doing away with this swindle, the change which really 
came about was this: the swindling has remained just as 
in Heathendom, "every one (every Christian) is a thief 
in his own line"; only, the swindling has taken on the 
predicate "Christian." So we now have "Christian" swind- 
ling — and the "clergj^man" bestows his blessing on this 
Christian community, this Christian state, in which one 
cheats just as one did in Heathendom, at the same time that 
one pays the "clergyman," that is, the biggest swindler of 
them all, and thus cheats one's self into Christianity. 

And if Christianity demanded seriousness in life and 
doing away with the praise and approbation of vanity — 
why, everything has remained as before, with just this dif- 
ference that it has assumed the predicate "Christian." Thus 
the trumpery business with decorations, titles, and rank, 
etc. has become Christian — and the clergj^man (that most 
indecent of all indecencies, that most ridiculous of all ridic- 
ulous hodge-podges), he is as pleased as Punch to be dec- 
orated himself — with the "cross." The cross? Why, cer- 
tainly; for in the Christianity of "Christendom" has not 
the cross become something like a child's hobby-horse and 
tin-trumpet ? 

And so with everything. There is implanted in man no 
stronger instinct, after that of self-preservation, than the 
instinct of reproduction ; for which reason Christianity 
seeks to reduce its strength, teaching that it is better not to 
marry ; "but if they cannot contain, let them marry ; for it 
is better to marrv than to burn." But in Christendom 

224 University of Texas Bulletin 

the propogation of the race has become the serious business 
of life and of Christianity ; and the clergyman — that quint- 
essence of nonsense done up in long clothes — the clergy- 
man, the teacher of Christianity, of the Christianity of the 
New Testament, has his income adjusted to the fact that the 
human race is active in propagating the race, and gets a 
little something for each child! 

As I said, look about you and you will find that every- 
thing is as I told you: the change from Heathendom con- 
sists in everything remaining unchanged but having as- 
sumed the predicate "Christian." 


(No. V, 8) 

In times long, long past people looked at matters in this 
fashion: it was demanded of him who would be a teacher 
of Christianity that his life should be a guarantee for the 
teachings he proclaimed. 

This idea was abandoned long ago, the world having 
become wiser and more serious. It has learned to set little 
store by these illiberal and sickly notions of personal re- 
sponsibility, having learned to look for purely objective 
ends. The demand is made now of the teacher that his 
life should guarantee that what he has to say is entertain- 
ing and dramatic stuff, amusing, and purely objective. 

Some examples. Suppose you wanted to speak about 
Christianity, that is, the Christianity of the New Testa- 
ment which expresses preference for the single state — and 
suppose you yourself are unmarried : why, my dear man ! 
you ought not to speak on this subject, because your congre- 
gation might think that you meant what you said and be- 
come disquieted, or it might feel insulted that you thus, very 
improperly, mixed in your own affairs. No, dear sir, it will 
take a little longer before you are entitled to speak seriously 
on this matter so as really to satisfy the congregation. Wait 
till you have buried your first wife and are well along with 
your second wife : then it will be time for you to stand be- 
fore your congregation to preach and "bear witness" that 

Selections from the Writings of Kierkegaard 225 

Christianity prefers the single state — then you will satisfy 
them altogether; for your life will furnish the guarantee 
that it is all tomfoolery and great fun, or that what you 
say is — interesting. Indeed, how interesting! For just as, 
to make it interesting, the husband must be unfaithful to 
his wife and the wife to her husband, likewise truth be- 
comes interesting, intensely interesting, only when one lets 
one's self be carried awa\'^ by one's feelings, be fascinated 
by them — but of course does the precise opposite and 
thus in an underhand manner is re-assured in persisting in 
one's ways. 

Do you wish to speak about Christianity's teaching con- 
tempt for titles and decorations and all the follies of fame — 
and should you happen to be neither a person of rank nor 
anything of the kind: Why, my dear sir! You ought not 
to undertake to speak on this subject. Why, your congre- 
gation might think you were in earnest, or feel insulted 
by such a lack of tact in forcing your personality on their 
notice. No, indeed, you ought to wait till you have a 
lot of decorations, the more the merrier ; you ought to wait 
till you drag along with a rigmarole of titles, so many that 
you hardly know yourself what you are called : then is your 
time come to stand before your congregation to preach and 
"bear witness" — ^and you will undoubtedly satisfy them; 
for your life will then furnish the guarantee that it is but 
a dramatic divertisement, an interesting forenoon enter- 

Is it your intention to preach Christianity in poverty, 
and insist that only thus it is taught in truth — and you 
happen to be very literally a poor devil : Why, my dear sir ! 
You ought not to venture to speak on this subject. Why, 
your congregation might think you were in earnest, they 
might become afraid and lose their good humor, and they 
might be very unpleasantly affected by thus having poverty 
thrust in on them. No indeed, first get yourself some fat 
living, and when you have had it so long that your promo- 
tion to one still fatter is to be expected : then is your time 
come to stand before your congregation and to preach and 
"bear witness" — and you will satisfy them; for your life 

226 University of Texas Bulletin 

then furnishes the guarantee that it is just a joke, such as 
serious men like to indulge in, now and then, in theatre or 
in church, as a sort of recreation to gather new strength — 
for making money. 

And that is the way they honor God in the churches! 
And then these silk and velvet orators weep, they sob, 
their voice is drowned in tears! Ah, if it be true (and it 
is, since God Himself has said so), if it be true that He 
counts the tears of the afflicted and puts them into His 
bottle, '^ then woe to these orators, if God has counted also 
their Sunday tears and put them into His bottle ! And woe 
to us all if God really heeds these Sunday tears — especially 
those of the speakers, but also those of the listeners ! For 
a Sunday preacher would indeed be right if he said — and, 
oratorically, this would have a splendid effect, especially 
if accompanied by his own tears and suppressed sobs — he 
would be right if he said to his audience: I shall count all 
the futile tears you have shed in church, and with them I 
shall step accusingly before you on the Day of Judgment — 
indeed, he is right ; only please not to forget that, after all, 
the speaker's own dramatic tears are by far more dreadful 
than the thoughtless tears of his listeners. 


(No. VI, 5) 

That a man who in some fashion or other has what one 
calls a "cause," something he seriously purposes to accom- 
plish — and there are other persons who make it their busi- 
ness to counteract, and antagonize, and hurt him — that he 
must take measures against these his enemies, this will be 
evident to every one. But that there is a well-intentioned 
kindness by far more dangerous, perhaps, and one that 
seems calculated to prevent the serious accomplishment of 
his mission, this will not at once be clear to every one. 

When a person suddenly falls ill, kindly-intentioned folk 

'^ Allusion to Psalm 56, 9; also, to a passage in one of Bishop 
Mynster's sermons (S. V.). 

Selections from the Writings of Kierkegaard 227 

will straightway rush to his help, and one will suggest this, 
another that — and if all those about him had a chance to 
have their way it would certainly result in the sick man's 
death; seeing that even one person's well-meaning advice 
may be dangerous enough. And even if nothing is done, 
and the advice of neither the assembled and well-meaning 
crowd nor of any one person is taken, yet their busy and 
flurried presence may be harmful, nevertheless, inasmuch 
as they are in the way of the physician. 

Likewise at a fire. Scarcely has the alarm of fire been 
sounded but a great crowd of people will rush to the spot, 
good and kindly and sympathetic, helpful people, the one 
with a bucket, the other with a basin, still another with a 
hand-squirt — all of them goodly, kindly, sympathetic, help- 
ful persons who want to do all they can to extinguish the 
fire. , 

But what says the fire-marshal? The fire-marshal, he 
says — well, at other times the fire-marshal is a very pleas- 
ant and refined man; but at a fire he does use coarse lan- 
guage — ^he says or, rather, he roars out: "Oh, go to hell 
with your buckets and hand-squirts !" And then, when these 
well-meaning people feel insulted, perhaps, and think it 
highly improper to be treated in this fashion, and would 
like at least to be treated respectfully — what says the fire- 
marshal then? Well, at other times the fire-marshal is a 
very pleasant and refined gentleman who will show every 
one the respect due him; but at a fire he is somewhat dif- 
frent — he says: "Where the devil is the police?" And 
when the policemen arrive he says to them: "Rid me of 
these damn people with their buckets and hand-squirts; 
and if they won't clear out, then club them on their heads, 
so that we get rid of them and — can get at the fire !" 

That is to say, in the case of a fire the whole way of 
looking at things is a very different one from that of quiet 
every-day life. The qualities which in quiet every-day life 
render one well-liked, viz., good-nature and kindly well- 
meaning, all this is repaid, in the case of a fire, with abusive 
language and finally with a crack on the head. 

And this is just as it should be. For a conflagration is a 
serious business; and wherever we have to deal with a se- 

228 University of Texas Bulletin 

rious business this well-intentioned kindness won't do at 
all. Indeed, any serious business enforces a very different 
mode of behavior which is: either — or. Either you are 
able really to do something, and really have something to 
do here; or else, if that be not the case, then the serious 
business demands precisely that you take yourself away. 
And if you will not comprehend that, the fire-marshal pro- 
poses to have the police hammer it into your head; which 
may do you a great deal of good, as it may help to render 
you a little serious, as is befitting so serious a business as 
a fire. 

But what is true in the case of a fire holds true also in 
matters of the spirit. Wherever a cause is to be promoted, 
or an enterprise to be seen through, or an idea to be served 
— you may be sure that when he who really is the man to 
do it, the right man, he who, in a higher sense has and 
ought to have command, he who is in earnest and can make 
the matter the serious business it really is — you may be sure 
that when he arrives at the spot, so to say, he will find there 
a nice company of easy-going, addle-pated twaddlers who, 
pretending to be engaged in serious business, dabble in 
wishing to serve this cause, to further that enterprise, to 
promote that idea — a company of addle-pated fools who 
will of course consider one's unwillingness to make com- 
mon cause with them (which unwillingness precisely proves 
one's seriousness) — will of course consider that a sure 
proof of the man's lack of seriousness. I say, when the 
right man arrives he will find this; but I might also look 
at it in this fashion : the very question as to whether he is 
the right man is most properly decided by his attitude to 
that crowd of fools. If he thinks they may help him, and 
that he will add to his strength by joining them, then he is 
eo ipso not the right man. The right man will understand 
at once, as did the fire-marshal, that the crowd must be 
got out of the way; in fact, that their presence and putter- 
ing around is the most dangerous ally the fire could have. 
Only, that in matters of the spirit it is not as in the case 
of the conflagration, where the fire-marshal needs but to 
say to the police : rid me of these people ! 

Thus in matters of the spirit, and likewise in matters of 

Selections from the Writings of Kierkegaard 229 

religion. History has frequently been compared to what 
the chemists call a "process." The figure is quite sugges- 
tive, providing it is correctly understood. For instance, 
in the "process of filtration" water is run through a filter 
and by this process loses its impurities. In a totally differ- 
ent sense history is a process. The idea is given utter- 
ance — and then enters into the process of history. But 
unfortunately this process (how ridiculous a supposition!) 
consists not in purifying the idea, which never is purer 
than at its inception ; oh no, it consists in gradually and in- 
creasingly botching, bungling, and making a mess of, the 
idea, in using up the idea, in — indeed, is not this the oppo- 
site of filtering? — adding the impurer elements which it 
originally lacked : until at last, by the enthusiastic and mu- 
tually appreciative efforts of successive generations, the 
idea has absolutely disappeared and the very opposite of 
the original idea is now called the idea, which is then as- 
serted to have arisen through a historic process by which 
the idea is purified and elevated. 

When finally the right man arrives, he who in the highest 
sense is called to the task — for all we know, chosen early 
and slowly educated for this business — which is, to throw 
light on the matter, to set fire to this jungle which is a 
refuge for all kinds of foolish talk and delusions and ras- 
cally tricks — when he comes he will always find a nice com- 
pany of addle-pated fools and twaddlers who, surelj' enough, 
do think that, perhaps, things are wrong and that "some- 
thing must be done about it" ; or who have taken the posi- 
tion, and talk a good deal about it, that it is preposterous 
to be self-important and talk about it. Now if he, the right 
man, is deceived but a single instant and thinks that it is 
this company who are to aid him, then it is clear he is not 
the right man. If he is deceived and has dealings with that 
company, then providence will at once take its hand off 
him, as not fit. But the right man will see at a glance, as 
the fire-marshal does, that the crowd who in the kindness 
of their hearts mean to help in extinguishing a conflagra- 
tion by buckets and hand-squirts — the right man will see 
that the same crowd who here, when there is a question, 

230 University of Texas Bulletin 

not of extinguishing a fire, but rather of setting something 
on fire, will in the kindness of their hearts wish to help 
with a sulphur match sans fire or a wet spill — he will see 
that this crowd must be got rid of, that he must not have the 
least thing in common wuth this crowd, that he will be* 
obliged to use the coarsest possible language against them 
— he who perhaps at other times is anything but coarse. 
But the thing of supreme importance is to be rid of the 
crowd ; for the effect of the crowd is to hamstring the whole 
cause by robbing it of its seriousness while heartfelt sym- 
pathy is pretended. Of course the crowd will then rage 
against him, against his incredible arrogance and so forth. 
This ought not to count with him, whether for or against. 
In all truly serious business the law of : either — or, prevails. 
Either, I am the man whose serious business this is, I am 
called to it, and am willing to take a decisive risk; or, if 
this be not the case, then the seriousness of the business 
demands that I do not meddle with it at all. Nothing is 
more detestable and mean, and nothing discloses and effects 
a deeper demoralization, than this lackadaisical wishing to 
enter "somewhat" into matters which demand an aut — aut, 
aut Caesar aut nihil,^ this taking just a little part in some- 
thing, to be so wretchedly lukewarm, to twaddle about the 
business, and then by twaddling to usurp through a lie the 
attitude of being better than they who wish not to have 
anything whatever to do with the whole business — to Usurp 
through a lie the attitude of being better, and thus to ren- 
der doubly difficult the task of him whose business it really 



(No. VII, 6) 

Pricks of conscience (insofar as they may be assumed in 
this connection) — pricks of conscience seem to have con- 
vinced "Christendom" that it was, after all, going too far, 
and that it would not do — this beastly farce of becoming 

•Either — or; either . Caesar or nothing (Cesare Borgia's slogan). 

Selections fi'om the Writings of Kierkegaard 231 

a Christian by the simple method of letting a royal official 
give the infant a sprinkle of water over his head, which is 
the occasion for a family gathering with a banquet to cele- 
brate the day. 

This won't do, was the opinion of "Christendom," for the 
opportunity ought to be given the baptized individual to 
indorse personally his baptismal vows. 

For this purpose the rite of confirmation was devised — 
a splendid invention, providing we take two things for 
granted : in the first place, that the idea of divine worship 
is to make God ridiculous ; and in the second place, that its 
purpose is to give occasion for family celebrations, parties, 
a jolly evening, a banquet which is different from other ban- 
quets in that it — ah, exquisite — in that it, "at the same 
time" has a religious significance. 

"The tender child," thus Christendom, "can of course not 
assume the baptismal vow personally, for this requires a 
real personality." Consequently there was chosen — is this 
a stroke of genius or just ingenious? — there was chosen the 
age of 14 or 15 years, the schoolboy age. This real per- 
sonality — that is all right, if you please — he is equal to the 
task of personally assuming responsibility for the baptismal 
vow taken in behalf of the infant. 

A boy of fifteen ! Now, if it were a matter of 10 dollars, 
his father would probably say : "No, my boy, I can't let you 
have all that money, you are still too green for that." But 
for a matter touching his eternal salvation where the point 
is to assume, with all the seriousness one's personality is 
capable of, and as a personality, responsibility for what 
certainly could not in any profounder sense be called se- 
rious — when a child is bound by a vow : for that the age of 
fifteen is excellently fitting. 

Excellently fitting. Oh yes if, as was remarked above, 
divine worship serves a double purpose, viz., to render God 
ridiculous in a very adroit manner — if you may call it so — 
and to furnish the occasion for graceful family celebrations. 
In that case it is indeed excellently fitting, as everything 
is on that occasion; as is, likewise, the customary bibMcal 
lesson for the day which, you will remember, begins : "Then 

232 Vnivey^sity of Texas Bulletin 

the same day at evening, when the doors were shut"" — 
and this text is particularly suitable to a Confirmation Sun- 
day. One is truly edified when hearing a clergyman read 
it on a Confirmation Sunday. 

As is easily perceived, then, the confirmation ceremony is 
still worse nonsense than the baptism of infants, just be- 
cause confirmation pretends to supply what was lacking at 
the baptism, viz., a real personality capable of making a 
vow in a matter touching one's eternal salvation. In an- 
other sense this nonsense is, to be sure, ingenious enough, 
as serving the self-interest of the clergy who understand 
full well that if the decision concerning a man's religion 
were reserved until he had reached maturity (which were 
the only Christian, as well as the only sensible, way), many 
might possess character enough to refuse to become Chris- 
tians by an act of hypocrisy. For this reason "the clergy- 
man" seeks to gain control of men in their infancy and their 
youth, so that they would find it difficult, upon reaching a 
more mature age, to break a "sacred" vow dating, to be 
sure, from one's boyhood, but which would, perhaps, still 
be a serious enough matter to many a one. Hence the 
clergy take hold of the infants, the youths, and receive 
sacred promises and the like from them. And what that 
man of God, "the clergyman," does, why, that is, of course, 
a God-fearing action. Else, analogy might, perhaps, de- 
mand that to the ordinance forbidding the sale of spirituous 
liquors to minors there should be added one forbidding the 
taking of solemn vows concerning one's eternal salvation 
from — boys ; which ordinance would look toward preventing 
the clergy, who themselves are perjurors, from working — 
in order to salve their own consciences — from working to- 
ward the greatest conceivable shipwreck which is, to make 
all society become perjured; for letting boys of fifteen bind 
themselves in a matter touching their eternal salvation is a 
measure which is precisely calculated to have that effect. 

The ceremony of confirmation is, then, in itself a worse 

"John 20, 19 — "whex*e the disciples were assembled for fear of the 
Jews, came Jesus and stood in the midst, and saith unto them, Peace 
be unto you." 

Selections from the Writings of Kierkegaard 233 

piece of nonsense than the baptism of infants. But in 
order to miss nothing which might, in any conceivable man- 
ner, contribute to render confirmation the exact opposite 
of what it purports to be, this ceremony has been connected 
with all manner of worldly and civil affairs, so that the sig- 
nificance of confirmation lies chiefly in the — certificate of 
character which the minister makes out ; without which cer- 
tificate no boy or girl will be able to get on at all in life.^" 

The whole thing is a comedy; and perhaps something 
might be done to add greater dramatic illusion to the solem- 
nity ; as e.g., passing an ordinance forbidding any one to be 
confirmed in a jacket, as not becoming a real personality; 
likewise, a regulation ordering male candidates for confir- 
mation to wear a beard during the ceremony, which beard 
might, of course, be taken off for the family celebration 
in the evening, or be used in fun and merrymaking. 

I am not now attacking the community — they are led 
astray ; they cannot be blamed for liking this kind of divine 
worship, seeing that they are left to their own devices and 
deceived by their clerg\'man who has sworn an oath on the 
New Testament. But woe to these clergymen, woe to them, 
these sworn liars I I know there have been mockers at re- 
ligion, and I know how much they would have given to be 
able to do what I do ; but they were not able to, because God 
was not with them. It is different with me. Originally as 
well disposed to the clergy as few have been, and very ready 
to help them, I have undergone a change of heart in the op- 
posite direction, owing to their attitude. And the Almightj^ 
is with me, and He knows how the whip is to be handled 
so that the blows take effect, and that laughter must be 
that whip, handled with fear and trembling — therefor am I 


True worship of God consists, very simply, in doing God's 

'"This was. until very recently, the universal rule in Protestant 
Scandinavia and Germany. 

234 University of Texas Bulletin 

But that kind of divine service has never suited man's 
wishes. That which occupies man's mind at all times, that 
which gives rise to science" and makes science spread into 
many, many sciences, and into interminable detail; that of 
which, and for which, thousands of clergymen and profes- 
sors live, that which forms the contents of the history of 
Christendom, by the study of which the clergyman or the 
professor to be is trained — is to get a different kind of 
worship arranged, the main point of which would be : to do 
what one pleases, but in such fashion that the name of God 
and the invocation of God be brought into connection there- 
with; by which arrangement man imagines himself safe- 
guarded against ungodliness — whereas, alas! just this pro- 
cedure is the most unqualified ungodliness. 

For example : a man has the intention to make his living 
by killing people. To be sure, he knows from the Word 
of God that this is not permissible, that God's will is : thou 
shalt not kill! "All right," thinks he, "but this way of 
serving God will not serve my purposes — at the same time 
I don't care to be among the ungodly ones, either." So 
what does he do but get hold of some priest who in God's 
name blesses his dagger. Ah, c'est Men autre chose! 

In the Scriptures the single state is recommended. "But," 
says man, "that kind of worship really does not serve my 
purposes — and surely, you can't say that I am an ungodly 
person; and such an important step as marriage (which 
nota bene God counsels against. His opinion being, in fact,, 
that the important thing is not to take "this important 
step") — should I take such an important step without mak- 
ing sure of God's blessing?" Bravo! "That is what we 
have the priest for, that man of God, he will bestow the 
blessing on this important step {nota bene concerning which 
the most important thing was not to take it at all) and so 
it will be acceptable to God" — and so I have my own way ; 
and my own way becomes the way of worshipping God; 
and the priest has his own way and gets his ten dollars, 
which are not earned in such a simple way as, for example, 

lilt is to be borne in mind that Danish videnskab, like German 
Wissenschaft, embraces the humanities and theology as well. 

Selections from the Writings of Kierkegaard 235 

by brushing people's clothes, or by serving out beer and 
brandy — oh no! Was he not active on behalf of God? To 
earn ten dollars in this fashion is: serving God. Brav- 
issimo ! 

What depth of nonsense and abomination ! If something 
is not pleasing to God, does it perhaps become pleasing to 
Him by having — why, that is aggravating the mischief! — 
by having a clergyman along who — why, that is aggravat- 
ing the mischief still more! — ^who gets ten dollars for de- 
claring it pleasant to God? 

Let us consider the marriage ceremony still further! In 
His word God recommends the single state. Now suppose 
two young people want to be married. To be sure, they 
ought certainlj' to know, themselves, what Christianity is, 
seeing that they call themselves Christians ; but never mind 
that now. The lovers then apply to — the clergyman; and 
the clerg>'man is, we remember, pledged by his oath on the 
New Testament (which nota bene recommends the single 
state) . Now, if he is not a liar and a perjuror who makes 
his money in the very shabbiest fashion, he would be bound 
to take the following course : at most he could, with human 
compassion for this human condition of being in love, say to 
them: "Dear children, I am the one to whom you should 
turn last of all; to turn to me on this occasion is, indeed, 
as strange as if one should turn to the chief of police and 
ask him how best to steal. My duty is to employ all means 
to restrain you. At most, I can say, with the words of 
the Apostle (for they are not the words of Our Lord), 
I can say to you: well, if it must be, and you cannot con- 
tain, why, then find some way of getting together; for 
'it is better to marry than to burn.'^- I know very well that 
you will be likely to shudder when I speak in this manner 
about what you think is the most beautiful thing in life; 
but I must do my duty. And it is therefore I said to 
you that to me you should have applied last of all." 

It is different in "Christendom." The priest — oh dear 
me! — if there are but two to clap together, why certainly! 
Indeed, if the persons concerned turned to a midwife they 

i-^I Cor. 7, 9. 

236 University of Texas Bulletin 

would perhaps not be as sure to be confirmed in their con- 
viction that their intention is pleasing to God. 

And so they are married ; i.e. man has his own way, and 
this having his own way strategically serves at the same 
time as divine worship, God's name being connected with it. 
They are married — by the priest! Ah, for having the 
clergyman along is just what reassures one — the man who, 
to be sure, is pledged by his oath to preach the New Testa- 
ment, but who for a consideration of ten dollars is the 
pleasantest company one could desire — that man he guar- 
antees that this act is true worship of God. 

In a Christian sense one ought to say : precisely the fact 
that a priest is in it, precisely that is the worst thing about 
the whole business. If you want to be married you ought, 
rather, be married by a smith; for then — if it were admis- 
sible to speak in this fashion — then it might possibly escape 
God's attention; whereas, if there is a priest along it can 
certainly not escape His attention. Precisely the fact of 
the clergyman's being there makes it as criminal an affair 
as possible — call to mind what was said to a man who in a 
storm at sea invoked the gods: "By all means do not let 
the gods notice that you are aboard!" Thus one might 
say here also : By all means try to avoid calling in a priest. 
The others, the smith and the lovers, have not pledged 
themselves by an oath on the New Testament, so matters 
are not as bad — if it be admissible to speak in this fashion 
— as when the priest assists with his — holy presence. 


(No. VIII, 3) 

Let me relate a story. I did not read it in a book of de- 
votion but in what is generally called light reading. Yet 
I do not hesitate to make use of it, and indicate its source 
only lest any one be disturbed if he should happen to be 
acquainted with it, or find out at some later time where 
it is from — lest he be disturbed that I had been silent 
about this. 

Once upon a time there lived somewhere in the East 
a poor old couple. Utterly poor they were, and anxiety 

Selections from the Writings of Kierkegaard 237 

about the future naturally grew when they thought of old 
age approaching. They did not, indeed, constantly assail 
heaven with their prayers, they were too God-fearing to do 
that; but still they were ever praying to God for help. 

Then one morning it happened that the old woman found 
an exceeding large jewel on the hearth-stone, which she 
forthwith showed to her husband, who recognized its value 
and easily perceived that now their poverty was at an end. 

What a bright future for these old people, and what 
gladness I But frugal and pious as they were they decided 
not to sell the jewel just yet, since they had enough where- 
withal to live still one more day. But on the morrow they 
would sell it, and then a new life was to begin for them. 

In the following night the woman dreamed that she was 
transported to Paradise. An angel showed her about the 
splendors which only an Oriental imagination can devise. 
He showed her a hall in which there stood long rows of 
arm-chairs gemmed all over with precious stones and pearls. 
These, so the angel explained, were the seats of the pious. 
And last of all he pointed out to her the one destined for 
herself. When regarding it more closely she discovered 
that a very large jewel was lacking in the back of the 
chair, and she asked the angel how that might be. He — 

— ah, watch now, for here is the point! The angel an- 
swered: "That was the jewel which you found on your 
hearth-stone. It was given you ahead of time, and it can- 
not be put in again." 

In the morning the woman told her husband this dream. 
And she was of the opinion that it was better, perhaps, to 
endure in poverty the few years still left to them to live, 
rather than to be without that jewel in all eternity. And 
her pious husband was of the same opinion. 

So in the evening they laid the jewel on the hearth-stone 
and prayed to God to take it away again. And next morn- 
ing it had disappeared, for certain; and what had become 
of it the old folks well knew : it was in its right place again. 

This man was in truth happily married, and his wife a 
sensible woman. But even if it were true, as is maintained 


University of Texas Bulletin 

so often, that it is men's wives who cause them to lose sight 
of eternal values : even if all men remained unmarried, 
there would still be in every one of us an impulse, more 
ingenious and more pressing and more unremitting than a 
woman, which will cause him to use a wrong measure and 
to think a couple of years, or ten years, or forty years, 
so enormous a length of time that even eternity were quite 
brief in comparison; instead of these years being as noth- 
ing when compared with the infinite duration of eternity. 

Therefore, heed this well! You may by worldly wis- 
dom escape perhaps what it has pleased God to unite with 
the condition of one's being a Christian, that is, sufferings 
and tribulations; you may, and to your own destruction, 
by cleverly avoiding the difficulties, perhaps, gain what God 
has forever made incompatible with being a Christian, that 
is, the enjoyment of pleasures and all earthly goods; you 
may, fooled by your own worldly wisdom, perhaps, finally 
perish altogether, in the illusion that you are on the right 
way because you have gained happiness in this world: and 
then — you will have an eternity to repent in ! An eternity 
to repent in ; to repent that you did not employ your time 
in doing what might be remembered in all eternity ; that is, 
in truth to love God, with the consequence that you suffer 
the persecution of men in this life. 

Therefore, do not deceive yourself, and of all deceivers 
fear most yourself ! Even if it were possible for one, with 
regard to eternity, to take something ahead of time, you 
would still deceive yourself just by having something ahead 
of time — and then an eternity to repent in! 


(No. IX, 3) 

Just as man — as is natural — desires that which tends to 
nourish and revive his love of life, likewise he who wishes 
to live with eternity in mind needs a constant dose of dis- 
gust with life lest he become foolishly enamored of this 
world and, still more, in order that he may learn thoroughly 
to be disgusted and bored and sickened with the folly and 
lies of this wretched world. Here is a dose of it : 

Selections from the Writings of Kierkegaard 239 

God Incarnate is betrayed, mocked, deserted by abso- 
lutely all men ; not a single one, literally not a single one, 
remains faithful to him — and then, afterwards, afterwards, 
— oh yes, afterwards, there were millions of men who on 
their knees made pilgrimage to the places where many hun- 
dred years ago His feet, perhaps, trod the ground; after- 
wards, afterwards — oh yes, afterwards, millions wor- 
shipped a splinter of the cross on which He was crucified! 

And so it was always when men were contemporary with 
the great; but afterwards, afterwards — oh yes, after- 
wards ! 

Must one then not loathe being human? 

And again, must one not loathe being human ? For these 
millions who on their knees made pilgrimage to His grave, 
this throng of people which no power on earth was able to 
overcome : but one thing were necessary, Christ's return — 
and all these millions would quickly regain their feet to 
run their way, so that the whole throng were as if blown 
away; or would, in a mass, and erect enough, rush upon 
Christ in order to kill him. 

That which Christ and the Apostles and every martyr 
desires, and desires as the only thing: that we should fol- 
low in His footsteps, just that is the thing which mankind 
does not like or does not find pleasure in. 

No, take away the danger — so that it is but play, and then 
the batallions of the human race will (ah, disgusting!) will 
perform astonishing feats in aping Him; and then instead 
of an imitation of Christ we get (ah, disgusting!), we get 
that sacred buffoonery — under guidance and command (ah, 
disgusting!) of sworn clergymen who do service as ser- 
geants, lieutenants, etc. — ordained men who therefore have 
the Holy Spirit's special assistance in this serious business.'